As part of Singapore's vision on how information technology (IT) can be harnesses in various ways for healthcare in the future, robotic aid for patient care is set to be implemented in hospitals soon, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

The ministry is developing prototypes "of smart wards integrated with smart logistics for what we hope will be hospitals of the future," he said at the National Health IT Summit held at the Singapore Expo on 30 May.

"In line with the shift beyond hospitals to the community, we will also look into robotics-assisted home care," he added.

Singapore launched its Health IT Master Plan in 2014 and has integrated IT into many facets of healthcare such as the National Electronic Health Records (NEHR) of patients that is currently accessible at all public institutions ̶ ¬which will eventually include data from the private sector.

Other IT innovations include automated pharmacy systems that pack medicines with fewer errors and telerehab, where patient can be monitored remotely.

Mr Gan hopes to use IT to change the landscape of the healthcare sector by harnessing technology in innovative and effective ways.

Embracing IT integration in healthcare through innovations

IT traditionally played a "supportive role" in the past, such as in patient administration, diagnosis and treatment. The use of IT in the healthcare landscape has the potential to be ramped up with new innovations ranging from telemedicine to big data, wearable to sensors to personalised medicine, and from robots to 3D printing, said Mr Gan.

Addressing concerns of disruption due to workforce adaptation, he said that if the disruptions have the potential to benefit patients and their families, and to the healthcare system, "we must not be afraid to allow them to take place."

Singapore is on track to having one of the most IT-enabled healthcare systems in the world, said Mr Bruce Liang, chief executive officer of Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS).

New initiatives by IHiS such as the new Vital Signs Monitoring (VSM) platform will be launched later this year.

The system enables remote monitoring vital signs such as the blood pressure, blood glucose, or weight of patients with conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart or pulmonary diseases.

"Patients can in turn receive more timely advice and intervention to manage their conditions without having to schedule an appointment to visit the hospital," explained Mr Gan. Such platforms include a nationwide pilot of telerehabilitation involving 14 institutions by the IHiS.

Predictive analytics to help identify patients who need extra care

The Ministry of Health is also focusing on the use of predictive analytics to monitor patient's conditions. For instance, a newly developed predictive model identifies discharged patients who are at risk of multiple readmissions for the next one year.

Over 1,000 indicators including the patient's age, total length of stay in the last two years and the total number of specialist outpatient visits in the past year are taken into account. It has already identified 2,500 patients who need extra care.

The model which will allow for proactive early intervention to support patients, is developed by IHiS, the National Healthcare Group, National University Health System (NUHS) and SingHealth over the past year.

Health IT Master Plan 2021: Cheaper, better and faster healthcare

The new health marketplace app will give patients easy access to personal care services, medical transport, meals-on-wheels and therapist services. Photo credit: Integrated Health Information Systems, Ministry of Health
The new health marketplace app will give patients easy access to personal care services, medical transport, meals-on-wheels and therapist services. Photo credit: Integrated Health Information Systems, Ministry of Health

Another model also by the NUHS, allows doctors to identify better or more cost effective treatments. NUHS identified cost-effective clinical practices, reduced unnecessary variations and improved both cost and clinical outcome.

Other initiatives include an improved Health Marketplace app, which will be available by the end of this year. The enhanced version will have other home care services added on to its menu progressively over the next three years, including personal care services, medical transportation, meals-on-wheels and therapist services. Those who qualify for the Seniors Mobility and Enabling Fund can buy home care supplies using the app.

Therefore the Health IT Master Plan should result in cheaper, better and faster healthcare for all by 2021.

By going digital intelligently, using data effectively and disrupting meaningfully, IT will support the three shifts in healthcare focus ̶ going beyond healthcare to health, hospital to the community and quality to value ̶ the ministry has announced, said Mr Gan. MIMS

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