Singaporean seniors will soon be able to receive medical care in the comfort of their own home – much thanks to a new technology created by German company, TUV SUD.

The technology dubbed Smart Elderly Care @ Home Centre was launched on 27 October at its headquarters in Science Park Drive. The centre offers a platform for the company to test the safety, security and reliability of its products.

"Countries like Singapore have limited resources in healthcare, so we have to leverage technology to care for the aged in our society," echoed Dr Axel Stepken, chairman of TUV SUD's management board.

Robots to assist doctors deliver diagnosis

The robot features a camera that enables doctors to monitor patient’s medicine intake and to talk ‘face-to-face’ with patients. It is also able to teach patients physiotherapy. In addition, it also has a network of sensors and screens to help doctors monitor patients’ vital signs.

Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Amy Khor officiated the centre’s launch. "We want to help our elderly age in place, and with peace of mind, surrounded by their loved ones," she remarked.

She also added that the technology will allow healthcare service providers to find the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions for different care needs in the community.

While the Health Ministry is consistently finding ways to move patients’ out-of-hospital care in that direction (homecare), “technology would play a significant role in helping elders to do that and for healthcare service providers to carry the task out more productively,” she added.

While having a robot will help, safety concern remains an important feature.

To ensure safety, Dr Andreas Hauser, director of TUV SUD digital service expressed that gadgets would have to be “medically and technically safe”, such as having encryption systems to safeguard sensitive patient data, checking that sensors do not miss out on blind spots, or that the machines do not shut down when one electronic element fails.

Hand-in-hand to build a better healthcare platform

“All companies should work in partnership to drive the digital transformation of healthcare, and provide an integrated care solution that is safe and secure for elderly,” added Dr. Hauser when asked how TUV SUD’s role would be different from that of the Integrated Health Information Systems, Singapore’s health IT provider.

Earlier this year, Integrated Health Information Systems, the health technology agency for the Ministry of Health launched Smart Health Video Consultation and Smart Health TeleRehab which enabled patients to use video consultation or carry out rehabilitation exercises at home.

Senior homecare physician and director of home healthcare service Lotus Eldercare, Tan Jit Seng said such technology would significantly benefit caregivers.

To support the cause, Dr Hauser said that TUV SUD will provide another platform for smaller start-ups, and add another layer of protection and credibility if the piloted products go through the centre’s “stress tests” and certifications.

Exercise coach: Eric, the robotic dog all geared up to add some fun into the exercise routines amongst the elderly. Photo credit: The Straits Times
Exercise coach: Eric, the robotic dog all geared up to add some fun into the exercise routines amongst the elderly. Photo credit: The Straits Times

The innovative world of eldercare in Singapore

Technologies in Singapore’s eldercare is always innovating and will continue to be tested in the next year before being tested in real-life scenarios, remarked Dr Hauser.

TUV SUD isn’t the first to release robot into eldercare. In 2015, Singapore launched RoboCoach, a robot trainer to help seniors exercise more. The robot features personalised exercise and ensures exercised are done correctly.

In the same year, Elderly Rehabilitative Interactive Companion or ERIC was rolled out to lead exercise routines at the Ling Kwang Home for Senior Citizens. The robotic dog was believed to be Singapore's first robo-canine designed for the elderly aimed to make repetitive therapy exercises less boring for the elderly, and frees up nurses to attend to other tasks.

The following year, Loomo was introduced at CES 2016. The robot functions as a self-driving wheelchair and is able to hook up to any ordinary wheelchair and pull it around. Loomo features a facial recognition to identify patients at a nursing home to connect to their wheelchair, and pulls them from one location to another.

The technological divide: Convincing the elders

Despite the innovation, there are still a lot of road bumps along the way – for a start: in getting the elderly to accept these technology advancements.

"I think it's about explaining the benefits to them and how it can enable them to stay at home to recover,” emphasised Hauser. Nonetheless, as pointed out by Tan, "The robot helps patients and caregivers feel there is always a doctor there if they need one. It takes the strain off our manpower resources as well as the caregivers." MIMS

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