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Health care, not 'sick care'

Zhuan Lee
Zhuan Lee • 9 min read
Health care, not 'sick care'
Lifestyle medicine aims to improve overall health and tackle chronic diseases by modifying lifestyle habits through a holistic and comprehensive approach.
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Lifestyle medicine aims to improve overall health and tackle chronic diseases by modifying lifestyle habits through a holistic and comprehensive approach.

From left: Co-Founders of Osler Health International: Dr Foong Tsin Uin and Dr Clarice Chia-Woodworth at their Raffles Hotel Arcade clinic.

Although “Lifestyle Medicine” may seem like a contemporary concept, its roots stretch back thousands of years. Hippocrates, often called the “Father of Modern Medicine,” promoted lifestyle modifications like diet and exercise over 2,500 years ago, famously stating: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This age-old wisdom forms the foundation of Lifestyle Medicine.

In recent decades, extensive research has linked unhealthy lifestyle habits to chronic diseases. Contrary to some perceptions, Lifestyle Medicine is not a ‘movement’ or ‘alternative medicine’; it is a scientific, evidence-based approach recognised as multidisciplinary and holistic in the medical field.

According to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, the principles that form the foundation of Lifestyle Medicine are based on six key pillars: Nutrition, Physical Activity, Stress Management, Restorative Sleep, Social Connection and Avoidance of Risky Substances. Globally, lifestyle medicine is a rapidly growing discipline increasingly relevant in managing chronic diseases. Lifestyle Medicine is an emerging field in Singapore with much room for awareness.

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Founded in December 2020 by Dr Tsin Uin Foong and Dr Clarice Chia-Woodworth, Osler Health International embraces a holistic and collaborative primary healthcare approach, shifting the focus towards healthcare rather than sick care. With the establishment of Osler, they aim to address chronic diseases proactively through lifestyle medicine and pay it forward with their Giving Back initiatives. 

When it comes to sustainability, the co-founders are keenly aware of the healthcare industry’s environmental impact, which accounts for approximately 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Osler — which has clinics at Raffles Hotel Arcade and Star Vista near Holland Road — is committed to leading by example by partnering with sustainability consultant Climate Partner to measure and offset its carbon footprint. They implement eco-friendly practices like going paperless, recycling, avoiding bottled water and sourcing from environmentally friendly suppliers. In October 2022, Osler became Singapore’s first primary healthcare company to attain carbon-neutral status.

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Options speak to Foong and Chia-Woodworth to better understand this sometimes misinterpreted aspect of modern medicine. 

What inspired you to establish Osler Health and adopt a preventative medicine approach to primary healthcare in Singapore? 

Foong Tsin Uin (FTU): Having practised in the UK and Singapore, I observed the need for a proactive and sustainable health approach. In our healthcare practice, we aim to guide patients toward long-term well-being.

For instance, despite recommending weight loss yearly during health check-ups, many patients struggle to progress. We address this challenge by collaborating with partners like dieticians and fitness trainers, collectively serving as the patient’s ‘health partner’ to achieve enduring health outcomes.

Clarice Chia Woodworth (CCW): At Osler Health, we aim to shift focus from sick care to comprehensive healthcare. Our approach integrates preventative medicine, healthy lifestyle choices and personalised interventions. We aim to empower patients for proactive health management, promoting optimal well-being and longevity. Our practice is rooted in lifestyle medicine and supported by a holistic team of experienced doctors who share our ethos.

How would you describe lifestyle medicine to the general public, and what sets it apart from traditional medical practices?

CCW: Lifestyle Medicine utilises evidence-based lifestyle interventions to prevent and manage chronic diseases. It focuses on six pillars: regular physical activity, a plant-based diet, stress management, quality sleep, avoiding tobacco and excess alcohol, and positive social connections.

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Simply put, it highlights the impact of daily choices on health. By adopting healthy habits, individuals can reduce the risk of conditions like heart disease and diabetes, empowering them to actively pursue wellness, enhance their quality of life and extend their health span.

FTU: Adopting a Lifestyle Medicine approach complements, rather than supersedes, traditional medical practices. It differs in being proactive and anticipating potential diseases, unlike the reactive nature of conventional medicine. Additionally, it emphasises a collaborative, ongoing partnership between patients and doctors. Instead of issuing instructions and waiting, we actively guide patients, offering support such as genetic testing, weight management, smoking cessation and mental wellness programmes tailored to individual needs.

How do you incorporate the six pillars into patient care plans, and what impact have you observed on patients and health outcomes?

CCW: Our doctors use the six pillars to tailor interventions for individual health goals. As coaches, they collaborate with patients to identify values and motivations, facilitating lasting behavioural changes. This approach involves a multidisciplinary team of allied health professionals, including dietitians, exercise physiologists, fitness trainers, psychologists, physiotherapists and health coaches. Osler Health ensures optimal results by leveraging this trusted network for comprehensive patient care.

FTU: Incorporating these pillars into personalised care plans yields a significant impact, empowering patients with autonomy. Satisfyingly, we observe improvements in weight management, blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, mental health, energy levels and overall quality of life among our patients.

Adopting a Lifestyle Medicine approach complements, rather than supersedes, traditional medical practices. It differs in being proactive and anticipating potential diseases, unlike the reactive nature of conventional medicine.  - Dr Foong Tsin Uin 

How do you balance business considerations with your commitment to providing premium medical expertise and personalised care?

FTU: Rooted in ethical, compassionate care, our brand prioritises patient trust over financial gains. Our commitment to patient welfare guides daily decisions. This ethical approach is evident in our five-star Google Reviews, reflecting the community’s trust. Such organic endorsement for a healthcare provider is earned through genuine community trust, showcasing our dedication to prioritising what’s best for the patient, not just the bottom line. 

CCW: Our practice prioritises patient-centred care, aligning all decisions with ethical standards. We provide premium medical expertise and compassionate care, creating tangible patient value. This commitment, driven by our patients’ well-being and trust, forms the foundation of our success and future growth.

How did your Giving Back programmes, like Pro Bono Pap Tests and Performing Arts Medicine Clinics, start, and what impact have they had on the community, showcasing your dedication to community well-being?

FTU: Osler Health was established with a commitment to community altruism in Singapore’s robust healthcare system. Recognising that some individuals lack access, we, as doctors, aim to share our skills with the less privileged. Focusing on foreign domestic helpers, we provide free Pap tests in four annual clinics, covering all expenses. As working parents benefiting from helpers, we aspire to scale this program by collaborating with like-minded corporate partners over time.

CCW: Our second Giving Back initiative, the monthly Pro Bono Musician’s Clinic, emerged from a collaboration with Dr June Tan-Sheren, a Performing Arts Medicine expert. Approached by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore, we provide confidential health support for young student musicians. This initiative reflects our commitment to supporting the arts community and nurturing the well-being of emerging talent, fostering stronger connections between healthcare and the arts for mutual support and understanding among professionals in both fields.

How do you see lifestyle medicine and collaborative care shaping the future of healthcare in today’s changing landscape?

CCW: Lifestyle medicine aligns with Medicine 3.0, a paradigm shift prioritising preventative care and longevity. Unlike one-size-fits-all models, it tailors interventions to individuals, addressing root causes for holistic treatment. This approach empowers active patient participation, aiming to lengthen lifespan and enhance health span. Osler Health emphasises accessible, informed doctors staying abreast of healthy longevity advancements. Our mission involves educating patients and the broader community on the value of health as an investment, promoting preventative measures for reduced healthcare costs and improved quality of life.  


Striking a healthy note

Osler Health International has introduced Performing Arts Medicine (PAM), a specialised field, to Singapore. Dr June Tan-Sheren (pictured), with a Master’s degree in PAM from University College London, is Singapore’s only formally qualified doctor in this area.  

Leveraging her expertise, she cares for musicians, dancers, vocalists and actors. She also manages a pro bono musician’s clinic that supports the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore. Here, she sheds light on this unique discipline.

PAM physicians specialise in advising performers on optimising these lifestyle factors to ensure health, prevent injury and maintain peak performance, tailoring individual plans to meet their unique needs. - Dr June Tan-Sheren (above)

What specific issues does PAM address?

Performing artists face unique health challenges across various disciplines, including mental health, musculoskeletal issues, vocal health, hearing concerns, eyesight and dental health.

These challenges arise from the demanding nature of their craft, leading to career-threatening injuries. Professional musicians, for instance, contend with repetitive strain injuries due to factors like instrument weight and precise control. Many performers undergo intense training from childhood, working in competitive and stressful environments that often neglect their well-being.

The constant exposure to critique and perfectionistic tendencies can contribute to mental health issues. Performing artists require a holistic approach and Performing Arts Medicine (PAM) professionals specialise in addressing their physical, psychological and social needs.

How established is the concept of PAM in Singapore and what motivated you to initiate it?

PAM has only recently emerged in Singapore, even though it has been around for 50 years in the West. I’ve always loved music, theatre and dance. As a child, I played the piano and thought it would be easy to learn the cello in adulthood — but I was wrong! I experienced many repetitive strain injuries, which I could easily diagnose myself, but I had trouble figuring out the root causes and how to prevent them from reoccurring.

I discovered an established field of medicine known as PAM, which promotes best practices based on scientific research and advocates for performers’ health and well-being. When I discovered a Masters programme in PAM, it was a no-brainer to deep-dive into it and learn from the top PAM experts in the world.

How can non-professional artists benefit from PAM?

PAM physicians, like myself, employ a holistic bio-psycho-social approach that extends to every patient, not just performers. As family physicians, our core practice involves treating the whole person, not just the disease.

Drawing from PAM skill sets, I effectively address musculoskeletal issues in non-performers, voice disorders in professionals reliant on their voices and various mental health concerns such as performance anxiety and issues related to perfectionism in over-achievers, offering comprehensive care beyond the realm of performing arts.

How does Lifestyle Medicine complement PAM? 

Lifestyle medicine, a cornerstone of preventive healthcare, targets pillars like nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management, substance avoidance and social connections.

Given the challenges of their rigorous schedules, these pillars are crucial for performing artists. PAM physicians specialise in advising performers on optimising these lifestyle factors to ensure health, prevent injury and maintain peak performance, tailoring individual plans to meet their unique needs. 

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