Champs for health

For the past two years, student volunteers from NUS Pharmacy have been making regular visits to elderly residents at Telok Blangah to help them better manage chronic illnesses. The Community Health Angels Mentoring Programme (CHAMP) is a collaboration with Monfort Care’s @27 Family Service Centre (FSC), which sees students teaming up with social workers to provide early intervention and support to these old folks, helping them with their medication and other health matters.

Dr Yap Kai Zhen, NUS Pharmacy lecturer and faculty-in-charge of the programme said that CHAMP gives students the opportunity to go beyond seeing patients in an institutional setting and venture into the community to understand the unique needs and challenges people have in relation to their health. “[CHAMP] can help students be more aware of the health determinants or social needs that may possibly influence health behaviour or health outcomes,” she added.

Students sign up for CHAMP from their second year and stay in the programme for one to two years. A typical visit by student volunteers includes checking the elderly resident’s medical compliance — ensuring he or she correctly follows medical advice — checking for signs and symptoms of deeper medical conditions, and clarifying any doubts about medical appointments. Each visit could take up to two hours.

[CHAMP] can help students be more aware of the health determinants or social needs that may possibly influence health behaviour or health outcomes.

Residents like elderly couple Mr Goh Chek Eng and Madam Chia Cho Kheow have benefited from the programme. Before the visits started, they struggled to make sense of their many different medication — Mr Goh needs to take 4.5 tablets every night and 11 tablets every morning — often taking them incorrectly. The students sorted out the tablets, with clear labelled instructions in Chinese for better understanding.

One of the students’ major contributions is closing the communication loop between the patients and their healthcare providers, said Dr Yap. Mr Goh recounted the time a memo from a student to his doctor managed to get him an urgent surgery for a diabetes complication, after the student heard his complaints of dark spots in his vision.

“They have really helped us a lot,” Mr Goh said in Chinese. “If there are any problems, I can ask them and they will explain. They helped me to understand my condition and medications better.”

The students’ medical knowledge have been a great help to social workers too, said Micki Sim, a social worker at @27 FSC. The students are able to take quick action for any medical need, giving social workers more time to attend to psychological, social or financial issues the residents might also be facing. “It’s an all-rounded kind of intervention; it’s very helpful,” Ms Sim said.

Tan She Hui, a final-year NUS Pharmacy student and a CHAMP volunteer said that the programme taught her the importance of medical compliance, and hopes to be able to look out for that as a pharmacist. “We must definitely make sure they take the medication properly before we can do any intervention,” she said.

CHAMP was piloted in December 2014 and has since trained 80 students and reached out to 37 elderly residents.

See media coverage.