The future of healthcare is shaping up in front of our very eyes. With the rapid advancement of digital technology, we are seeing a healthcare landscape that is more connected, efficient, and convenient than ever before.
What used to be the preserve of a few ranked hospitals and clinics is now within our reach, at our fingertips, and on our smartphones.
In Singapore, we have been at the forefront of harnessing digital technology to improve healthcare delivery and outcomes for our people.
From e-health records to teleconsultations, we are constantly exploring how to use digital technology to make healthcare more convenient, accessible, and affordable for everyone.
Singapore Ranks High in the 2021 World Index Healthcare Innovation
Singapore was ranked 12th in the World Index Healthcare Innovation (WIHI) in 2021, with an overall score of 49.71. Its overall performance was driven by strong showings in the categories of e-health, digital government, and strong research universities.
E-health is a key focus area for the Singapore Government. Fast-tracked by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has been developing initiatives to make digital healthcare more mainstream.
It started before the pandemic with the launch of HealthHub in mid-October 2015, a one-stop digital platform that gives the public easy access to health information and services.
HealthHub has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times on IOS and Android devices.
The app provides users with a single login to access different e-services from Singapore’s public healthcare institutions.
These include booking and cancelling appointments, ordering repeat prescriptions, and checking laboratory results and X-rays.
Another government initiative worth mentioning is Telehealth.
Launched in April 2017, Telehealth is a service that allows patients to consult with doctors via video call. Initially, it was offered as a pilot to seniors but extended later to all Singaporeans in need of immediate care.
Telehealth has been a game-changer for many, providing them with greater convenience and peace of mind.
Telehealth is accessible to all Singaporeans, regardless of their location or time of day. All they need is a smartphone, tablet, or laptop with a webcam and internet connection.
Patients can undergo rehabilitation exercises with the help of a physiotherapist or receive mental health counselling from a psychologist – all without leaving their homes.
The initiative has helped to cut down long clinic queues and freed up time for doctors to see more patients.
Digital Technology in the Singaporean Health System
Singapore has a long history of using digital technology to improve healthcare delivery.
One of the earliest examples is the launch of the MediSave scheme in April 1984, which was one of the world’s first national health savings programs.
MediSave allows Singaporeans to set aside a portion of their monthly wages to meet their future personal and immediate family’s hospitalization, day surgery, and certain outpatient expenses.
On June 21st, 2011, Accenture (NYSE: ACN) partnered with the Ministry of Health (MOH) to launch the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) system.
The NEHR is a lifetime electronic health record for all Singaporeans that captures key clinical information such as medical history, medications and allergies, laboratory test results, and immunization records.
The NEHR system is accessible to authorized healthcare professionals across different sectors, making it easier for them to provide seamless and coordinated patient care.
With rising incidences of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, the health promotion board (HPB) has been working on initiatives to help Singaporeans lead healthier lives.
One such initiative is the National Steps Challenge, first introduced in 2015.
The Challenge is a mass participation program encouraging Singaporeans to be more active and make small changes in their daily lives that can lead to significant health benefits.
The app integrates a steps tracker, a wearable device, and the health 365 mobile app to track an individual’s daily step count. It also allows users to join challenges with friends and family and participate in community events.
The app also provides access to a wealth of health-related information and resources, such as articles on healthy eating and exercise and a directory of HPB-approved exercise classes.
The Assertive Technology and Robotics in Healthcare
Assistive technology has been used in healthcare to help the elderly and patients with disabilities.
Some examples of assistive technology include robotic exoskeletons to help patients with paralysis walk and smart glasses to help the visually impaired see.
Robotics is also being used in surgery, with robot-assisted surgery becoming increasingly common.
The ongoing research in assertive technology and robotics in healthcare aims to develop new and innovative ways to improve care delivery.
One good example is the RoboCoach Xian, a trainer robot developed by Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) students to help senior citizens with physical rehabilitation exercises.
The RoboCoach is operated via a mobile app, providing real-time feedback to users on their exercise form and progress.
A team of researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School and SingHealth Polyclinics has developed a VR simulator that allows medical students to experiment with the feasibility and acceptability of using VR to screen elderly citizens for cognitive impairments such as dementia.
The simulator puts users in a healthcare professional’s shoes, allowing them to experience what it is like to interact with patients with dementia.
Using such immersive technologies can help provide a more realistic training experience for medical students and ultimately lead to better patient care.
What’s Next for Singapore’s Digital Health Journey?
The launch of the NEHR system is just the beginning of Singapore’s digital health journey.
One such initiative is the development of the Next Generation Electronic Medical Record (NGEMR) system.
The NGEMR system is an integrated platform that will allow patients to view their medical records from different healthcare providers in a single portal.
This will make it easier for patients to keep track of their medical history and make informed decisions about their health.
The NGEMR system is currently being piloted at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Ren Ci Hospital, and National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), and is expected to be rolled out to all public hospitals and polyclinics by the end of the year.