When you think about HealthTech, you’re probably thinking about the machine-equipped pushcarts nurses use in hospital wards or patient registration terminals.
While those are a small part of what HealthTech encompasses. In reality, HealthTech covers a much larger range of sectors, including, but not limited to healthcare procedures, healthcare devices, computer information systems used to manage patient data, AI and Machine Learning algorithms, and things like autonomous robotic systems for both inpatient and outpatient services.
In this article, we will discuss the key players and technologies surrounding HealthTech in Singapore in the current day.
Since as early as the late 1990s, Singapore has been regarded by observers worldwide as being one of the most aggressive countries in adopting IT innovations within her healthcare delivery systems, from her early adoption of a “synchronized information system” to patient administration through Internet portals and SMS.
Recently there has been an even greater push to attract tech talent to the healthcare sector. The TechSkills Accelerator is a broad SkillsFuture initiative started in 2018, collaborating with various governmental and non-governmental entities to focus on upskilling, facilitating career switches and converting 21,000 IT professionals to be healthcare-ready and compliant.
According to the Senior Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat, this growing need for HealthTech in Singapore mainly stems from the shrinking pool of healthcare workers and the rapidly ageing population.
According to him, the key to better quality care lies in innovative new solutions that tap into the agility of tech professionals.
This need has certainly not gone away since. In 2021’s Singapore Health and Biomedical Congress, Healthcare Experts stated that the inevitable shift to digitalisation has been made more urgent due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a trend report from the global HR and Recruitment Giant Randstad, Singapore’s ICT sector will require another 60,000 tech professionals, with the largest missing pieces remaining in Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing, both important competencies in HealthTech.
One of the more prominent players in our Healthcare sector is SingHealth, which has recently partnered with NVIDIA and the National Supercomputing Centre just this year in March.
Announced at the SupercomputingAsia 2022 conference, the aim of this “public-private” collaboration, as elucidated by Minister-in-Charge of GovTech Dr Janil Puthucheary, is to link together infrastructure, software, digital tools and researchers to “accelerate scientific outcomes” that “support Singapore’s healthcare and medical services.”
Also important, as Dr Janil says that the partnerships “will open up many more possibilities in other fields of medicine, beyond the initial use cases”, one said the use case would be to develop AI algorithms for SingHealth’s own “Artificial Intelligence for Transformation of Medicine Programme”.
A partnership more focused on AI solutions has been between SGInnovate and SingHealth, which was announced in November of last year.
SingHealth AI projects this partnership will boost include JARVIS-DHL, which uses AI to “predict the likelihood of a patient with diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia developing complications” and ICRSS, a similar prediction algorithm to determine a patient’s “risk of a Major Adverse Cardiac Event”
Speaking about the MOH’s approach regarding the future of robotics in assistive care, Sutowo Wong, the Director of the Analytics and Information Management Division in the Ministry of Health raised a few key players that have “pushed boundaries”. Stating the need for healthcare to be proactive considering “the declining old-age support ratio”, he introduced us to a robot trainer called RoboCoach Xian, which imitates human biomechanics to allow it to move realistically, serving as a guide to senior citizens. The robot can teach its patients a few simple exercises, and “help provide cognitive therapy to seniors who have suffered strokes or have other age-related disorders.
The Robotic Middleware for healthcare, developed by the newly established Centre for Healthcare Assistive & Robotics Technology (CHART), is another development that standardises and facilitates communication between sensors, robots, and a larger informational infrastructure.
Future Themes of HealthTech
While we’ve been mostly talking about technologies you might consider “behind-the-scenes” as they are mainly operated by healthcare professionals, the future of HealthTech may lie in bringing these already AI-assisted healthcare sessions remote.
When relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, because of the virus’s high rate of transmission, telemedicine has been largely on the uptrend as a service offered by local healthcare providers. MyDoc a telemedicine provider that helps provide remote consultations reported a 160% increase just within the first few months of the Covid virus alone. MyDoc and healthcare providers like it have rolled out applications like the Singapore Covid-19 Symptom Checker using AI to advise users on their call to action, the Mask Go Where webpage advising on the current state of mask distribution, telekiosks for video consultation on-site.
While the private sector has taken this area of HealthTech by storm, hospitals have begun to quickly follow suit. The OneNUHS’s app rolled out to almost all teleconsultation patients at Alexandra Hospital last October, before adding National University Polyclinics, National University Hospital and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital to the list. The app will give patients the ability to request medicine refills, view related medical records, book in-person visits and get personalised recommendations on health screenings and vaccinations.