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Technology vital to healthcare in Asia-Pacific

The opportunities for technology to improve healthcare services were explored at HIMSS AsiaPac17 in Singapore, but experts warned that challenges must be addressed before innovation can truly transform the sector

Technology is fundamental to transforming how healthcare is delivered, but some challenges remain, according to experts.

At the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) AsiaPac17 conference recently held in Singapore, there were many examples of how technology has improved the delivery of healthcare.

“Technology has enabled sharing of information across disciplines and care settings, and this has facilitated new models of team-based care,” said Chee Hong Tat, senior minister of state for communications and information in health.

Team-based care involves care through a team of health professionals with different expertise. This approach to healthcare has become important due to ageing populations and as health issues become more complex.

An example is Singapore’s Hospital to Home programme. Implemented in six hospitals this year, it supports patients after they are discharged by giving them access to a range of professionals.

Another programme is the Acute Medical Ward (AMW) at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) where the workflow and processes were redesigned to allow patients to receive more timely assessments across disciplines. This has reduced the average length of hospital stay by 2.4 days, and decreased the average patient bill by 20%.

The backbone of team-based care is the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) system, which aims to have a single electronic health record per patient, said Bruce Liang, CIO at the Ministry of Health.

Healthcare providers can access NEHR to check details such as care history before deciding on treatment, even when patients move from one institution to another.

“The continuity of care records would be a challenge as patients could go to any healthcare provider.  Our strategy is to digitise, connect and analyse data across the Singapore healthcare ecosystem,” said Liang.

Read more about healthcare technology

Other speakers alluded to gaps in NEHR data, as there are healthcare facilities outside the public ecosystem that have yet to plug in to the national healthcare database.

In the telehealth space, Singapore has also rolled out video consultation and tele-rehab systems, which allow patients to receive care in their preferred locations.

Later this year, there are plans to launch the Vital Signs Monitoring (VSM) system, which will allow the remote monitoring of vital signs such as blood pressure and blood glucose. Patients will also receive more timely advice and intervention to manage their conditions without visiting the hospital.

Next wave of digital innovation

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) technology is delivering breakthroughs, according to Dominic King, clinical lead at Google DeepMind.

“Underpinning many of the challenges in healthcare systems are two problems: poor technology and inherent system complexity. The current level of digital maturity will prevent the delivery of AI-enabled care,” he said.

Google DeepMind developed the Streams app, which alerts clinicians as soon as a patient with acute kidney injury (AKI) is at risk. The company is focusing its healthcare research on health predictions and medical imaging, said King, to use AI to predict the future health outcomes of a patient, as well as to analyse medical images.

According to Mike Jones, research director at Gartner: “Singapore is one of the most advanced nations when it comes to eHealth. By having an established national health record, Singapore is in the driving seat for this next wave of digital innovation.”

However, he added that the challenges faced by e-health initiatives across the globe include the continual increase in adoption by all public and private care providers, ensuring that supplier IT systems can interoperate, and successfully navigating the next wave of digital capability.

“The new capabilities that we see on the rise in the next five years include the use of virtual personal health assistants, AI for diagnostics and treatment, telehealth for remote monitoring of chronic conditions, and video access for patients who need to see a doctor without having to travel to the clinic,” said Jones.

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