Digital engagement and transformation of healthcare in Singapore

COVID-19 has pushed digital health technologies such as telehealth and remote monitoring /virtual care into the fore, and the nation-state of Singapore is no exception. Its ‘whole of society’ approach to combating the pandemic, in which the government, private sector and citizens come together as a unit has resulted in an extremely low fatality rate of 0.05% (27 deaths out of more than 57,000 cases at the time of writing).

Another important component in Singapore’s effective approach in containing the pandemic is the Ministry of Health’s method of risk profiling through multi-agency efforts to capture data, and subsequently having tiers to provide different levels of care based on the COVID-19 patient cases’ severity.

Bruce Liang, CEO of Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), Singapore’s national health IT agency, said during the first episode of the Singapore Digital Dialogue Series that the use of tech, together with the close alignment of the Health Ministry’s risk stratification plans, has resulted in the adoption of a care model that is “manpower light and tech heavy”. With the majority of confirmed COVID-19 cases being relatively healthy, these patients can be managed with the use of remote monitoring tech in newly created Community Care Facilities (CCFs), while manpower can be focused on dealing with higher-risk patients.

Never let a crisis go to waste

The telehealth program in Singapore has been running for about three years, and due to the pandemic, the number of use cases have tripled in the last six months with both new and existing users. While it is encouraging to see the significant rise in telehealth adoption, Liang noted that this period is a good opportunity to also iron out workflow issues and reimbursement models.

This is especially crucial in post-COVID Singapore to provide a seamless telehealth experience for both clinicians and patients and maintain or even increase the momentum of telehealth adoption.

Expressing similar sentiments, Dr Keren Priyadarshini, Regional Business Lead, Worldwide Health, Microsoft Asia said that the pandemic has resulted in more openness to try new ways of working – for example, her company has partnered with neurologists to adopt mixed reality models for training.

She predicts that a hybrid model can be successful for healthcare in the future – a blend of traditional in person healthcare services and telemedicine services like virtual/remote care. 

As a result of the pandemic, the healthcare world has seen six major cases of cybersecurity breaches/incidents since June with specific issues like ransomware and botnets which has become a standardized way of attack, explained Evan Dumas Regional Director, South East Asia, Check Point.

Dumas’ advice for healthcare organizations was to focus on real time prevention rather than reacting to cybersecurity incidents when they actually happen. It is also critical to secure the organization’s numerous disparate medical devices and systems as these can become potential points of unauthorized entry. Being able to consolidate these devices and systems, monitor them on a centralized platform will also aid in better overall visibility and enhance incident prevention.

Upcoming priorities

While Liang observed that there was no significance difference in terms of digital engagement with patients during the pandemic period, a key priority in the post COVID-19 period for IHiS is to enhance digital engagement with patients in a less transactional manner. For instance, other than using digital platforms for scheduling appointments and checking lab results, IHiS’s focus would be to look at how on to improve the patient service journey.

Another area of challenge would be community care management/post discharge care management, as there are numerous types and varying levels of tech use especially in the private sector, which will be difficult to integrate and collaborate with. 

Lastly, with most multiple tech and IT experiments running across most public healthcare providers, IHiS needs to balance between supporting these providers while needing to maintain a system-wide picture, support parallel innovations and ensuring interoperability between systems. 

To meet these challenges, a new healthtech master plan has been set in place in Singapore, with the aim of redefining how technology and business partners can work together in the healthtech space. 

Click here to register for the next episode HIMSS Singapore Digital Dialogue Series.

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