Good health is almost like national security
Family physicians caring for their patients alongside specialists is not a common sight.
But that is set to change when Sengkang General and Community Hospitals are completed in 2018, where Dr Farhad Fakrudin Vasanwala will be based.
Dr Farhad, the Head of the Department of Family Medicine, Sengkang Health, wants to see a holistic and seamless approach, where the community at large and Sengkang Health work closely to care for patients.
In his scheme of things, family physicians and polyclinics who are the first point of contact for most patients, will continue to be involved with their patients when they are hospitalised and after they are discharged. Family physicians (FPs) are usually not involved in caring for their patients after referring them to the specialists and hospitals.
For Dr Farhad, it will go a long way in helping FPs keep tabs on their patients’ health. ‘’FPs help prevent diseases from taking place later on, they are the gatekeepers. Patients should also view them as more than dispensers of cough and cold medicine,’’ said Dr Farhad, himself a FP. “FPs can identify the gaps in patients’ lifestyle and nip any problem in the bud.’’
FPs, he noted, can receive further training to raise their medical skills and handle some of the tasks currently undertaken by specialists. This will result in the “SOCs (Specialist Outpatient Clinics) not being choked up so fast, and we also leverage on FPs’ talent,’’ he said.
Forging a new healthcare eco-system
From the patients’ perspective, they will be “confident when they see their FPs work collegially with their specialist colleagues when they are hospitalised,’’ noted Dr Farhad. Supported by their FPs, there is also the bonus of easing the patients “when they are stable” from the hospital back into the community, in a seamless manner. “We (Sengkang Health) want to transit the care of patients to the community, without any drop in care.’’
Ultimately, it will help the FPs and Sengkang Health provide effective healthcare for residents in Singapore’s northeast.
Dr Farhad and his team are now working the ground to bring the FPs, estimated to be about 50 to 60 in the northeast, to collaborate with Sengkang Health.
FPs will also be given access to hospital facilities so that they could send their patients for tests, an avenue that is not readily available to them now.
“Family physicians help prevent diseases from taking place later on; they are the gatekeepers.’’
Extra years worth it
His road to become a doctor was an unusually long journey. But Dr Farhad, 48, never wavered from his goal to be one, even if it meant he had to put in extra four years of studies to achieve it. In fact his friends thought he was “crazy’’ to pursue a five-year medical degree, just after completing his four-year honours degree in Microbiology from the National University of Singapore in 1992.
After his microbiology degree, he studied medicine at the University of Sheffield in the UK. By the time he did his housemanship, his peers were already going to be medical registrars. Still, Dr Farhad persevered and went on to attain qualifications to specialise in family medicine – his abiding passion.
If anything, studying microbiology spurred his goal to be a doctor as he enjoyed both the clinical and bio-medical sciences. “I don’t see them as extra years, they certainly made me appreciate the multiple facets of medicine better,’’ said Dr Farhad, who has practised medicine for close to 18 years.
His quest to be a doctor and to delve in depth in the somewhat under-appreciated role of the FP are is strongly influenced by his doctor-mother Dr Farida Vasanwala, 75, who has been practising family medicine at the same Bedok clinic for close to 40 years.
Building patient rapport through languages
His passion for interacting with patients began early on, even before his medical studies. He studied Mandarin up to AO levels and is fluent in Malay, Hokkien, Gujarati, all of which help to build rapport with his patients. “Nothing beats it like speaking in the patient’s own language,’’ he said, punctuating our interview with Mandarin and Hokkien phrases. Now he is coaching his children in Mandarin although he acknowledged it gets increasingly harder as they move up the grades. His wife is a paediatrician.
Assessing his new “journey’’ as Head of Family Medicine at Sengkang Health, Dr Farhad enthused, “We have a golden chance to do unique things which could hopefully transform healthcare for the whole of Singapore. We must treasure it!"