Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) is emphasising to place efforts to improve productivity at all levels of healthcare services to achieve greater efficiency and improve the quality of patient care, according to the Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat on 17 January.

He noted that one way to address the challenges posed by an ageing population - growth in the labour force slows while demand for healthcare grows - is to automate labour-intensive tasks in healthcare.

"By stretching our limited manpower resources with automation, reinventing care models and streamlining work processes, our healthcare staff can focus more on patient care and serve more patients," he said.

Technology pilots new care models

Citing the new robotic bottle medication dispensing system at KK Women's and Children's Hospital's Emergency Pharmacy, Mr Chee said that the automated system of loading, picking and packing bottles - as well as fastening water-proof and tear-proof labels onto medication bottles - has helped the hospital increase its pharmacy workload capacity by 30%.

The system, which has been in use for a year has enabled staff to spend less time packing medications and more time with patients, consequently reducing the waiting time during peak hours at the pharmacy.

Technology has also been used to pilot new care models. Some patients of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) who are living in nursing homes are reviewed remotely by IMH specialists via video consultations. This eliminates the need to travel to the IMH with nursing home staff, saving time and costs.

Improving patient care through teamwork

Mr Chee also highlighted efforts by the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) in improving the safety of patients undergoing haemodialysis as an example to healthcare institutions delivering safer care together with patients.

Previously, a team of nurses found that non-compliance of hand hygiene, poor catheter hubs cleaning protocols and insufficient patient education were key contributors to infections. This led the team to develop and incorporate a catheter care bundle into their standard operating procedure at five NKF dialysis centres, emphasising hand hygiene, catheter hub disinfection and patient engagement.

After the bundle was introduced, the central line-related infections rate at the participating NKF dialysis centres decreased from 7.14 in 100 in November 2014 to 1.23 in 100 in June 2016. The nurses were recognised for their efforts at the Singapore Health Quality Awards on the same day.

Empathy and support can go a long way

Mrs Julie Seow, a diabetes life coach at Touch Diabetes Support was also recognised. Pioneering the support group that has more than 1,000 members today, Mrs Seow who is a Type 1 diabetes sufferer herself, recalls how it started out as a group of diabetics small enough to meet in her home.

The group is now under the voluntary welfare organisation Touch Community Services, which provides diabetics practical tips on how to care for themselves and encourages its members to consistently challenge themselves despite their illness.

"These examples show us that productivity improvement can take place at any level," said Mr Chee, who added that "through regular reviews of work processes, healthcare staff can develop solutions that improve care and make the way we work more efficient and effective." MIMS

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