Date: August 11, 2021
Dr Bernard Lee’s journey in the field of pain management began 25 years ago, when he witnessed his father’s heart-wrenching struggle with cancer.
“Not even the strongest painkillers, such as morphine and anti-inflammatory medicine, could alleviate his pain, which had spread from the lung to the bones, and he spent many sleepless nights in agony,” recalled the Chief Executive Officer of SGX-listed medical services group Singapore Paincare Holdings Ltd (SPCH).
At the time, Lee was already a practicing doctor and specialising in Anaesthesiology, but was helpless to treat pain arising from such chronic illnesses.
“It was a humbling experience as anaesthesiologists were traditionally thought to be the authority on pain care during surgery, and this opened my eyes to a new dimension of pain treatment,” he added.
“It was then that I resolved to sub-specialise in chronic pain care, so as to bring relief and hope to those who suffer from pain.”
In 1994, Lee graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor’s degree in Medicine and Surgery, and obtained a Master of Medicine (Anaesthesiology) five years later. In 2003, he became a fellow of the Faculty of Pain Medicine of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists.
Between 2002 and 2006, he was a director at Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Pain Management Unit, where he played a key role in setting up the hospital’s Pain Clinic. He was also instrumental in establishing the Women’s Pain Centre at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital in 2009.
In 2007, Lee ventured into private practice to set up Singapore Paincare Center in Paragon Medical Suites. Seven years later, this was expanded to include a second Paincare Center in Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre.
“I realised then that many people think degenerative and chronic pain are conditions that they either have to live with or undergo surgery for,” said Lee, who is a member of the Singapore Society of Anaesthesiologists and the Pain Association of Singapore.
“This is not always the case, as there are less invasive alternatives to open surgery, and no one needs to suffer pain in silence. Pain relief is a human right. This is why I established the Singapore Paincare Center – to make integrated pain care services accessible to everyone.”
Listed on SGX Catalist in July 2020, SPCH is a medical services group engaged in pain care, primary care and other services. The Group focuses on the treatment of patients suffering from chronic pain, and its pain care services include, among others, minimally invasive procedures, cancer pain treatment, specialised injections, pharmacotherapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy.
In addition to pain care treatment, SPCH’s suite of services includes general medical consultation, management of chronic and acute conditions, health screening and dermatology.
“We want to change the way pain management is consumed and raise the collective standards of pain care,” Lee pointed out. “Our benchmark today is 70%-90% pain reduction for our patients, and over 85% patient satisfaction.”
It is also clear that not all patients can afford specialist treatments, he added. “That’s why we are bringing our pain management services out of the confines of specialist care to the heartlands, making them affordable and accessible to the general masses.”
To broaden its patient base and strengthen its focus on providing holistic pain care, the Group has added two more specialists, three primary care doctors as well as three clinics to its network.
“The establishment of GPs with a special interest in pain care treatment is a first and important step,” Lee said. “This new skillset is poised to address the unmet needs of chronic pain conditions in the general community.”
The Group has also expanded its service offerings to include Traditional Chinese Medicine by adding a TCM practitioner to its team.
“This follows the collaborative treatments with our substantial shareholder, non-profit TCM group Sian Chay Medical Institution, to slow down degenerative conditions and prevent the recurrence of pain in our patients,” he noted.
Additionally, SPCH expects to continue growing its post-treatment rehabilitation services for patients through its Ready Fit Physiotherapy unit, established in November 2020.
“We will continue to enlarge our network of specialist and primary care clinics through acquisitions of substantial stakes in such practices, as and when the opportunity arises,” Lee said.
“With COVID-19 still not under control in Asia, we need to wait a little while more to expand geographically, but this is certainly on the cards.”
The pandemic has also impacted the Group. Social distancing measures have made it difficult for SPCH to operate at capacity, while many overseas patients are unable to fly in for treatment due to border closures. Enhanced safety measures have also resulted in longer wait times for consultations and treatments.
“As specialist pain care services become more inaccessible, patients are turning more to public healthcare providers,” Lee noted. “We are thus considering potential collaborations with private institutions to aid the treatment of patients with chronic pain conditions.”
At the same time, competition within the industry remains stiff. As the Group offers a less invasive alternative to open surgery, it naturally competes with other specialists that treat the condition surgically.
There is also competition from non-medical service providers, such as TCM practitioners and chiropractors, who also interact with the same group of patients experiencing pain.
“To overcome these challenges, we’re adopting a multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional approach in our pain care treatment,” Lee added. “Due to our intimate understanding of the nature of pain, we have the breadth and depth of expertise to address pain conditions holistically, as a one-stop centre.”
Meanwhile, SPCH remains focused on the goals in its Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) strategy.
This year, the Group partnered Sian Chay to provide 5,000 beneficiaries with free influenza and pneumonia vaccinations. In the first quarter of 2022, it will collaborate with social enterprise “Corporate Alliance for Good” to sponsor face masks for the underprivileged in the Philippines.
It will also continue to uphold its Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) goals of providing free consultations to patients in need who have been referred by GPs, as well as blessing three to five patients with free treatments annually, Lee said.
“To protect all patients, there are many strict regulations regarding the provision of free treatments. As such, we continue to manage our social outreach efforts with care.”
At the end of the day, the calling to serve patients remains a driving force for Lee, who is in his 50s and has a teenaged son. He is passionate about research on ways to reverse degeneration, which forms the root cause of recurring pain.
“If we can successfully crack the genetic code, we will be able to slow down and reverse degeneration,” he said.
“As such, I have a strong interest in areas such as cell therapy, rejuvenation, and regeneration, which can be used to treat pain related to Parkinson’s disease and arthritis of the knee.”
What also keeps him up at night is the goal of turning SPCH into a disruptive force for good in the pain care industry, and changing the ways that pain care is being consumed.
“My goal is for pain specialists to be at the start of the pain care treatment value chain, and thinking about how we can get there keeps me occupied,” he added.
Singapore Paincare Holdings Ltd
Singapore Paincare Holdings (SPCH) is a medical services group engaged in pain care, primary care and other services. The Group focuses on the treatment of patients suffering from chronic pain and its pain care services include, among others, minimally invasive procedures, cancer pain treatment, specialised injections, pharmacotherapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy. In addition to pain care treatment, SPCH’s suite of services includes general medical consultation, management of chronic and acute conditions, health screening and dermatology services.
The company website is: sgpaincareholdings.com
Click here for the company’s StockFacts page.
For the half year ended 31 December 2020 financial results, click here.
First published on SGX website on 5 August 2021
About kopi-C: the Company brew
Text: Jennifer Tan-Stanisic
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