In another future-forward move, IHH is stepping up to identify and guard against possible healthcare threats, such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which Dr Loh calls the “hidden pandemic”.
In 2019, infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria directly caused an estimated 1.27 million deaths globally. For deaths from illnesses in which bacterial AMR played a part, the number rose to a staggering 4.95 million. By comparison, the death toll from COVID-19 in 2020 stood at approximately 3 million.
AMR is caused by the inappropriate or excessive use of antibiotics, resulting in mutated bacteria or microbes that are resistant to being killed. “When one gets sick or infected by such bacteria, it is very difficult to treat,” said Dr Loh. “This is the equivalent of global warming for the healthcare industry.”
Taking the lead in the fight against AMR, IHH is embarking on a groupwide Antimicrobial Stewardship programme. To ensure the sustainable use of antibiotics, the programme limits their use to situations where they offer the right efficacy.
“It’s about being more targeted, as opposed to using a blunderbuss,” said Dr Loh. “This involves being more sophisticated about understanding the bacterial profile in our hospitals, our resistance profiles to different antibiotics and getting doctors to come up with the right protocols. With an appropriate framework, we can then deliver good care while hopefully slowing down the hidden AMR pandemic.”
TAKING CARE OF ITS PEOPLE
While the AMR strategy can be regarded as being part of IHH’s hardware, its patients-first approach is very much a part of the group’s heart-ware. A decade ago, Dr Loh – then CEO of Mount Elizabeth – was at the hospital when he spotted an off-duty nurse tending to a five-year-old boy who was undergoing chemotherapy. When asked, the nurse revealed that she had come back just to see the patient.
“She was walking the boy back and forth with his chemo pump,” recalled Dr Loh. “Bringing back his smile made her feel it was all worthwhile. This is what we aim to do – to create an inspiring environment for our people to widen the scope of care.”
Caring for employees is one of the cornerstones of the organisation’s sustainability framework, which was put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite taking a financial hit with the widespread cancellation of elective surgeries, IHH committed to zero retrenchments and made sure to secure sufficient personal protective equipment to keep staff safe.
“We assured staff that we would take care of them, as much as they have been there for our patients. Our people responded remarkably – we had one of the lowest attrition rates in the history of our company,” said Dr Loh.