This Singapore university wants to drive the country’s integrated care strategy
By Si Ying Thian
The social sciences university steps up as the lead to bring together healthcare and social service providers, as its partnerships align with Singapore’s shifting healthcare focus to preventative care.
Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with healthcare and social agencies to ramp up research and training capacities for integrated care. Image: SUSS
The Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) has inked Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with seven healthcare and social service agencies during its Integrated Care Learning Symposium held on 30 October 2023.
The partnerships aimed to ramp up research and training capacities for integrated care, which refers to care coordination around the person’s holistic needs.
The seven partners are Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital, National Healthcare Group, National University Health System and SingHealth Community Hospitals, Fei Yue Community Services, and Lions Befrienders Service Association (Singapore).
Speaking to GovInsider, Associate Professor Justina Tan, Associate Vice President, Strategic Partnership & Engagement, SUSS, said the university’s neutral role positioned it well as an integrator among multiple players, beyond just a connector for two agencies.
“Our intent is not for SUSS to just bring people together within Singapore, but we have the ambition to get these people together to spearhead Singapore’s brand in integrated care,” she added.
SUSS’s wide-ranging expertise across psychology, law, and social enterprise complements our core expertise in healthcare, said Associate Professor Lee Kheng Hock, Deputy Chief Executive Officer (Education and Community Partnerships) at SingHealth Community Hospitals, a public healthcare cluster.
Singapore’s shifting focus to preventative, integrated care
Reactive, medical treatment is giving way to preventative care with a focus on psychological and social support.
GovInsider earlier covered the role of technology in enabling integrated healthcare in Singapore. However, there is more to integrated healthcare than meets the eye.
An estimated 80% of a patient’s health is based on social determinants, such as their physical living environment, social connections and economic status, said Prof. Lee from SingHealth.
If we do not address the social conditions and behaviours, there is little use focusing on just medically treating the symptoms, he explained.
For example, a patient with diabetes would find it easier to manage his symptoms if he was able to access healthy food affordably, exercise, and manage his stress levels, alongside his medicine routine.
In recent years, the Singapore government has also rolled out policy initiatives centered around preventative care as well as psychosocial support.
These include encouraging senior volunteerism through AIC’s Silver Generation Ambassador (SGA) program, as well as the recent HealthierSG, which is focused on linking up elderly with community agencies and helping them develop preventative healthcare plans.
AIC is an agency under Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) that was set up in 2018 to coordinate the delivery of aged care services.
Highlighting the positive impact of senior volunteerism on ageing, Sng Hock Lin, Chief of Silver Generation Office at AIC, said:
“What [AIC] wants to offer is that the idea of volunteerism is beyond our family and work roles. Especially in Singapore, we have to be busy [with our roles] to find meaning. When we find a role to contribute back to the community, we can find that meaning and purpose.”
By partnering with SUSS, AIC is also hoping to bridge theory and practice to hone existing volunteer training programs, both by tapping on the university’s research expertise and AIC volunteers’ outreach experience.
AIC is also working with SUSS, polytechnics and other schools to expand its pool of SGA volunteers to students in social science courses.
Birth of new jobs in an ageing society
SUSS and SingHealth concurred that the ability for the university to issue formal qualifications helps to facilitate both the creation and redesignation of job roles.
“For people who have a passion to work with older persons and want to continue their studies, this opens a pathway for them… There is also the trend now for workers, even very senior people, to start doing PhDs
SingHealth introduced the role of Wellbeing Coordinator in 2019 to better link patients up with social services and community care providers.
This followed the review of early evidence around the effectiveness of social prescribing in the United Kingdom, a practice that aims to connect people to community activities and services to meet practical, social, and emotional needs.
SingHealth’s training arm was launched in the same year to train professionals in this skillset.
Tan Hui Ting, Principal Occupational Therapist of Community Health (Programmes) at Tan Tock Seng Hospital also spoke on the redesigned role of the Health Coach.
The role was first introduced four years ago as part of a national initiative to tackle diabetes and has since evolved to support residents in living healthier lives.
Policy priorities to support the ageing population
Now, there are two priority areas for Singapore to bridge gaps in managing its ageing population, said Dr Mohamad Maliki bin Osman, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs in Singapore.
First, Singapore needs solutions that emphasise the importance of social engagement and community-based support networks for the elderly. Secondly, more research is needed on the cultural responses to ageing in Singapore’s multiracial society.
“Different communities age quite differently, and we need to understand how to respond to them effectively, because not everyone responds to aging in the same manner from a cultural perspective. So, I think we need to study this more, and understand how their cultural nuances and worldview affect their way of aging,” he explained.
The university’s bread and butter is experiential and applied learning, reported Today recently.