Can Singapore shift from a fee-for-service to value-based healthcare system?

Singapore has been exemplary in terms of achieving high-quality healthcare with lesser spending but with an aging population and rising healthcare costs, the road towards value-based healthcare may not be so straightforward.
By Dean Koh
11:06 PM
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In the book Affordable Excellence: The Singapore Healthcare System by William A. Haseltine published in 2013, the author noted that Singapore “ranks sixth in the world” in terms of healthcare outcomes, while “spend[ing] less on healthcare than any other high-income country”. When compared with other countries, Singapore ranks high on value-based indices - A 2014 EIU white paper that looked at health outcomes and costs across 166 countries ranked Singapore second after Japan, noting that it had achieved similar outcomes to Japan’s but with a significantly lower investment.

One of the key pillars behind Singapore’s remarkable success in delivering affordable and high-quality healthcare since its independence in 1965 is the government’s approach to healthcare improvement and care as an integral and inseparable part of the overall development planning for the country, Haseltine explains in the first chapter of his book.

In November 2017, the Ministry of Health introduced the ‘3 Beyonds Strategy’ to keep healthcare in Singapore to keep healthcare in Singapore good and affordable. They are:
(i) Beyond Healthcare to Health
(ii) Beyond Hospital to Community
(iii) Beyond Quality to Value

With an aging population and increasing costs and burden of healthcare in Singapore, the “Beyond Quality to Value” strategy becomes essential to retain or increase quality of care while ensuring value for money. The Agency for Care Effectiveness (ACE) was set up in 2015 to research treatments that provide the best value for money. For instance, three drugs may offer the same results, but have very different prices. Or a drug may be more expensive, but offer outcomes that are far better than cheaper alternative drugs.

In the long run, the conventional method of fee for service-based care that works on a basis of volume and treating illnesses and injuries as they occur is also not tenable – hospitals and healthcare organisations cannot expand their capacities indefinitely and there is already an existing manpower crunch of qualified professionals in the healthcare sector.

 

Treating illnesses and diseases when they occur is often expensive and unpleasant for patients – therefore, the proverb, “prevention is better than cure” is especially relevant. The “Beyond Healthcare to Health” strategy has seen the Health Promotion Board (HPB) ramping up efforts for people to become healthier and more active, through initiatives such as the National Steps Challenge (currently in its forth season) and Healthier Dining Programme.

Value-based care prioritises health outcomes that matter to patients relative to the cost of achieving those outcomes. This is also related to “Beyond Hospital to Community” strategy in which patients can receive appropriate care community or at home so they can stay well and avoid frequent hospital admissions. This is better for them in terms of health and convenience, and for the healthcare system too, as hospital care is very expensive.

The transition from a fee for service-based to a value-based healthcare system may not be an easy journey for many healthcare providers and organisations but it also presents many opportunities to relook existing approaches to healthcare, not just in the delivery of patient-centric care but also in aspects such as financing models and leveraging technologies such as AI to provide value to both patients and clinicians while reducing costs.

With the theme of “Disruptive innovation for Value-based healthcare”, the HIMSS Singapore eHealth & Health 2.0 Summit held from 23-24 April 2019 at Marina Mandarin Singapore will feature six main topics related to achieving value-based healthcare:
(i) Population health
(ii) Healthcare revenue cycle
(iii) Patient outcomes
(iv) Acute-to-community
(v) Cybersecurity; and
(vi) Artificial intelligence

The HIMSS Singapore eHealth & Health 2.0 Summit will be a great opportunity for like-minded healthcare leaders and professionals in Singapore and abroad to come together to tackle some of the major challenges and opportunities in moving towards a value-based healthcare system.