Primary Healthcare for All: Bridging Gaps and the Power of Networks

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Primary healthcare (PHC) encompasses a broad range of services that form the bedrock of healthcare systems. Yet, PHC often lacks the recognition it deserves. How might society identify the gaps in the healthcare system and bring PHC to the fore?

On 14th June 2023, The HEAD Foundation Dialogues invited Dr Khor Swee Kheng, CEO of Angsana Health, and Dr Goh Wei-Leong, co-founder of HealthServe, to speak on “Primary Healthcare for All”.

Dr Khor shared on the importance of primary healthcare (PHC) in prioritising health-promoting and preventive care that is accessible and affordable to all. However, PHC remains overshadowed by hospital care and curative care, with the average OECD spending on hospital care being six times that on PHC.

Strengthening PHC would require increased funding, possibly through equalising the pay between hospital care and PHC or changing pay structures to boost financial incentives for PHC workers. There is also a need to strengthen digital systems to increase the tools available to general practitioners and family practices in PHC.

Dr Goh emphasised the importance of both formal and informal networks to shape positive change in PHC. Formal networks connect various stakeholders such as governments, social services, and physicians to support healthcare for marginalised groups, while informal networks offer a much-needed human touch and community element for these groups. Every individual plays a part in these networks; this requires us to work towards relational frameworks with patients and the community, instead of transactional ones.

The dialogue further discussed some challenges faced with efforts to strengthen PHC, primarily centred around the emphasis on hospital care in medical school training and financial incentives for doctors. Overcoming these challenges would require a strong political will to bring about increased funding for PHC, as well as a major cultural shift in society to inspire young doctors to seek PHC as a form of specialisation, equal in importance to traditional specialty areas. This would require a push in efforts to recognise PHC as a crucial component of the healthcare system.

The audience also raised concerns on how healthcare systems will adapt in response to an increasingly volatile world, which reinforced the need to strengthen PHC as a bridge between community care and hospital care. In addition, it is rather unpredictable whether rapid technological advancements will benefit or hinder healthcare systems. Technology has the potential to both improve the efficiency and quality of PHC, or further exacerbate the gaps in its accessibility due to existing gaps in access to technology­­ — it is our efforts in uplifting PHC today that are more likely to shape a positive outcome for PHC in the future.

Ultimately, the panel stressed that PHC exists in an ecosystem of interdependent stakeholders that must be treated as equally important to ensure that PHC is indeed, for all.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the speakers in this webinar are their own and do not represent the opinions of The HEAD Foundation.

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