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Exclusive: Propelling Healthtech Within Singapore

NUHS Healthtech Innovations in Singapore

Singapore is recognised as one of the most medically advanced countries in the world. Known for its high standards of medical treatments and reputable procedures, Singapore is also constantly innovating and making novel discoveries for further advancing technology within the medical space. NUHS Healthtech Innovations in Singapore has advanced medical technology.

Under the Ministry of Health (MOH), the healthcare system in Singapore has been organised into the following clusters – National Healthcare Group (NHG), Singapore Health Services (SingHealth) and the National University Health System (NUHS). Each group oversees specific hospitals and polyclinics.

There have been multiple healthtech-related innovations that have been made over the years surrounding technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and improving medical procedures.

Dr Ngiam Kee Yuan, MBBS (London), MRCS (Glasgow), M.Med (Surgery), FRCS (Edinburgh)

To understand how Singapore’s medical technology field is progressively changing, OpenGov had the opportunity to interview Dr Ngiam Kee Yuan, Group Chief Technology Officer of the National University Health System (NUHS) Singapore.

The interview gave tremendous insight into the innovation efforts under the National University Health System’s wing and its role in shaping Singapore’s healthtech scene.

As part of his position, Dr Ngiam oversees the technology deployment in the Western Healthcare Cluster of Singapore.

He assists the Chief Executive to implement new technologies throughout NUHS and serves as the Chief Advisor to the Centre for Innovation in Healthcare at NUHS.

Dr Ngiam is concurrently the Deputy Chief Medical Informatics Officer at the National University Hospital of Singapore, with a special focus on artificial intelligence research and implementation in healthcare. He has certification training by the American Medical Informatics Association and has published computing and medical journals on topics related to healthcare AI applications and technology.

In his capacity as Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Dr Ngiam engages in research into endocrine and metabolic surgery as well as artificial intelligence applications in healthcare.

He promotes interdisciplinary collaboration throughout the NUS campus, particularly between the schools of medicine, engineering and computer science for various healthcare applications. He was awarded the ExxonMobil-NUS Research Fellowship for Clinicians and numerous teaching awards for his work in research and education.

Digital Transformation in NUHS

Dr Ngiam Kee Yuan said that service provision is being transformed with digital technology, at a pace that outstrips traditional business cycles. The healthcare industry, in particular, has been behind the curve due to the regulated nature of the industry.

“Digital transformation is inevitable in every industry.”

Dr Ngiam Kee Yuan

Challenges around patient data confidentiality, medical device regulations and the lack of clarity of these regulations for clinical decision support tools have contributed to the tepid adoption of technology in healthcare.

The healthcare industry is held to high expectations by patients and digital technology is seen as a way to deliver the same services in a more efficient and timely manner. Dr Ngiam shared that NUHS would meet these expectations by embracing digital technologies and working with other institutions and agencies to onboard deep technology.

One such source of innovation is the National University of Singapore (NUS)’s School of Computing and Institute of Systems Science (ISS) with whom NUHS works closely to on-board novel AI technologies from the university’s large research base.

To enable such technologies, NUHS already has an established governance standard that is compliant with the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA). This is the foundation that allows for continuous onboarding of innovation by researchers and clinicians. “While there is active research work and need for implementing these digital technologies, it takes time for end-users to adapt to these changes and the safe implementation of technology requires the change management to be executed well,” he stressed.

An example of how technology can revolutionise service delivery is through the use of advanced chatbots. Present generation chatbots are rule-based machines that provide answers based on set parameters. However, using next-generation conversational bot technology which can account for the context and sentiment of queries, it aims to address patients’ administrative inconveniences such as changing appointments, refilling medications, paying bills or even pointing them in the right direction when in the hospital. Some of these bots possess AI features such as being able to direct patients to see a General Practitioner instead of the Accident and Emergency, just based on their reported symptoms.

Collaboration with other government agencies

Dr Ngiam shared that NUHS works hand in hand with regulatory bodies such as MOH and PDPC to ensure that high-quality medical data is made available to researchers in a secure manner. It also works closely with national bodies, such as the MOH Office of Healthcare Transformation, to coordinate clinical AI projects.

NUHS has also learned from other agencies such as the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) on their use of design thinking in shaping citizen services. It also works with technical collaborators such as the National Supercomputing Centre Singapore (NSCC) which provides the necessary supercomputing bench strength to process the big datasets and AI models built by data scientists.

Technologies and Innovations Employed by NUHS

NUHS is able to deploy deep technology due to its close working relationship with academic institutes and the availability of large datasets.  Dr Ngiam acknowledged the challenge of translating deep technology into actual workable solutions for deployment.

With regard to the technology domains, NUHS uses deep learning predictive AI tools to process images, free text, speech, structured data and genomics. These tools are being deployed as physician assistants and clinical decision support systems.

A unique feature of NUHS’s AI technology is the ability for AI algorithms to improve itself, a feature called incremental learning. This refers to an AI tool that incrementally improves its performance with automated training on new data – the more data it receives, the better its performance. This goes beyond just about having an accurate tool, but also one which improves itself as well.

Healthcare Challenges with Technology

There are many challenges that healthcare systems face, but they can broadly be broken down into pre-hospital, intra-hospital and post-hospital phases. Solutions to pre-hospital problems involve the use of AI chatbots and health coaches to engage healthy individuals. Intra-hospital solutions revolving around AI machines which assists clinicians in their work. Post-hospital solutions focus on tracking patients’ compliance with medication and appointments.

Measurement of Success

Dr Ngiam stressed that it is important to measure the effect of technology on clinical services and to continually adapt to the needs of end-users. Success is measured on how well a technology addresses the problem, using metrics such as improvement in clinical quality against costs.

Future of Healthtech

Dr Ngiam shared that the vision for the future is to incorporate more technologies into healthcare practices and services and to boost the healthcare technology scene within Singapore.

“Not only will healthtech improve patient satisfaction, but it will also improve the efficiency of the healthcare services offered.”

Dr Ngiam Kee Yuan

Healthcare providers too will be able to provide more focused services, with technologies easing their workload and time spent on tasks.

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