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Ong Ye Kung: Public trust towards institutions is weakening; digital technology causing profound changes

Mr Ong cautioned that with with digital technology bad news often gets exaggerated and travels much faster than good news.

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Singapore – Speaking at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine 2019 Medical Dinner, Minister of Education Mr Ong Ye Kung tackled the issue of trust on institutions and how it is weakening in today’s age.

On July 3 (Wednesday), Mr Ong Ye Kung was a guest-of-honor at the Medical Dinner held at the Raffles City Convention Centre.

The event was held to commemorate and welcome the graduates of 2019 from NUS Medicine and Nursing into the professional world and to honour alumni.

The Minister of Education started his speech by recognizing the contributions of Mr Tan Jiak Kim and other pioneers who helped turn the vision of a medical school in Singapore into a reality.

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He gave insights on the path set before the fresh graduates, that they “are not just taking up a job with an employer” but are “joining public institutions in the public healthcare system, which is a national institution.”

“For a national institution to be effective, it needs leadership and talent, effective organization, and above all, it needs public trust – the most important ingredient,” noted Mr Ong.

The Minister of Education then focused on trust.

He started with an anecdote involving his first car and how he got it fixed with a mechanic without going for a second opinion. Until today, he does not know whether he paid a reasonable price for the repair or not.

The experience created an issue of trust with the mechanic. He did, however, find a good car repair shop that he trusts and would gladly pay the price for their services.

“That problem is evident today all over the world. Public trust towards institutions, generally, I think, is weakening,” said Mr Ong.

“The medical profession, the education system, the mainstream media, or even Governments – nobody is spared.”

He mentioned a few scenarios such as patients suing doctors and vice versa, unsatisfied members of the public turning to social media “to create a fuss” against a public officer, and parents scrutinising a school’s curriculum as experts in education because they are the first educators of their children.

“When there is no open and honest communication, and trust is weakened, the system and the institution as we know it can no longer serve its recipients well,” said Mr Ong. “In fact, you will start to get perverse behaviour, like defensive medicine.”

While he mentioned some probable causes for the weakening trust on institutions, Mr Ong noted the distinct role of digital technology in changing the “way we consume information, distribute information, interact with each other, conduct business with authorities and institutions.”

He gave a distinct example using mass media.

“We know that through the mass media, bad news often gets exaggerated and travel much faster than good news,” said the minister.

“With digital technology, that process has gone into overdrive. Imagine if we all read a piece of negative news about a profession every day, over time, your trust in it will be eroded, even though nothing about the profession has changed,” he added.

“Remember, water that drips on a hard rock, over time, will create a hole.”

Rebuilding the trust

To address the issue of trust between the public and institutions, the minister provided four suggestions:

  1. “Always be competent and safeguard the role of expertise in our society,” he said.
  2. Uphold our code of conduct that works both ways – one that protects the client and the service provider by setting out common standards and expectations about the practice.
  3. As a professional community, always contribute back to society, said Mr Ong. “Have a heart for those who are less fortunate.”
  4. Lastly, stay true to the ethos to serve. Place the people you serve at the centre of all that you do.

He added that to lose one’s ethos would make an individual “unfit to serve.”

To close his speech, Mr Ong urged the newest batch of professionals “to serve your patients with compassion and integrity, and to go above and beyond your clinical and nursing obligations, to use the skills, knowledge, and expertise that you have gained, as you formally join the healthcare fraternity.”

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