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He ditches glitz to care for seniors [The Straits Times]

In the last of a weekly series on job creation, we look at healthcare.

01 May 2017

For 15 years, Mr Darren Thng, 47, dealt in spectacle, working on glitzy entertainment and design projects involving artists such as Taiwanese singer Elva Hsiao and American songstress Norah Jones.

Today, he has gone from rubbing shoulders with stars to spending time with senior citizens at Bright Vision Hospital.

In 2015, he gave up his job managing a German subsidiary in China building musical fountains to be with his elderly parents in Singapore. His mother had suffered a fall and was becoming more isolated, so Mr Thng wanted to spend more time with her. And after years of working overseas, he was also keen on a new career back home that would let him give back to society.

"I realised I was tired of chasing after numbers and I do enjoy helping and serving people. So I looked only for jobs in community services and non-profit organisations," he said.

Mr Thng decided to make a foray into the community care sector - an area in urgent need of manpower as the population ages.

The proportion of those aged above 65 is set to double to 900,000 by 2030, making one in four Singaporeans then an elderly person.

Mr Thng joined the Senior Management Associate Scheme, which was started by the Agency for Integrated Care in a bid to draw professionals, managers, executives and technicians into the community care sector to meet the growing demand. He went through six weeks of training that included short-term attachments with community care groups, and last year started work as a manager in the chief executive's office at Bright Vision Hospital.

The scheme helped Mr Thng ease his way into unfamiliar territory laden with acronyms and medical jargon that had him stumped.

Since then, he has helped start new projects, like a Caregiver Afternoon Tea Session, when caregivers and family members of patients at the hospital can unwind over free snacks and homemade drinks and have a chat with staff there - a token of gratitude to the people who labour to look after others.

Mr Thng hopes to do more: He is thinking of pursuing a master's in healthcare management and go for overseas attachments to learn more about different healthcare systems around the world.

"I hope to pick up some desirable and sustainable practices that will allow our seniors to age in a dignified and comfortable way," he said.

The double whammy of a rapidly ageing population and the rise of chronic diseases is fuelling demand for healthcare and aged-care services here. And the healthcare sector is set to grow to cope with this.

Currently, there are more than 91,000 healthcare workers, including doctors, dentists, nurses and allied healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) estimates that in the next three years, 9,000 additional workers will be needed for new facilities and services in public healthcare and community care.

Among other things, six new polyclinics, as well as 2,100 additional beds in public hospitals and 9,100 in community hospitals and nursing homes, are in the pipeline.

Last year, MOH launched the 2020 Healthcare Manpower Plan, which lays out various initiatives to help Singaporeans find jobs in healthcare. The plan's key focus areas include transforming the profiles and skillsets of the healthcare workforce to prepare for an ageing population, and tapping technology to boost productivity and patient care.

Relevant future skills for healthcare workers include aged care, data analytics and informatics.

The many possibilities data and IT have to offer in healthcare inspired former doctor Samuel Sim Syn Pin, and Ms Yvonne Lim Yi Wei, a former speech therapist, to switch tracks.

They are now medical informatics officers at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, looking at ways to use health data and technology to improve healthcare delivery and processes.

Part of their duties include developing the hospital's electronic medical records.

Ms Lim, 33, points out how the focus of healthcare delivery is changing from bricks-and-mortar visits to telehealth and mobile health, which allow patients to access healthcare services from their homes, and help them and their doctors track their conditions through mobile devices and applications.

So platforms for communication and information - such as patient data - must be enhanced and made accessible.

"We have to work with clinical groups and operations whenever and wherever they have new initiatives or plan new processes," she said. "IT cannot be an afterthought because then, you do not get the most out of the system and everyone gets frustrated."

Data, said Dr Sim, 31, is immensely important in driving healthcare improvement and productivity.

"When appropriately contextualised, processed and interpreted, it will tell us whether what we are doing improves patient outcomes, and will point out what we should do more of, what we should tweak and what we should stop doing," he said.

Data can, among other things, also point out disease patterns and show how much the healthcare costs are at each instance or facet of care, he added.

"While I believe that medicine will always require a human touch - I am a doctor, after all - there are many healthcare-related activities that would benefit from greater automation and intelligent decision support," Dr Sim said.

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

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