Singapore’s Health Promotion Board has grown from using advertising campaigns to building gamification apps to encourage people to pick up healthy habits.
It is also putting up health records online for the first time, giving citizens access to crucial information on their wellbeing.
The agency’s Chief Information Office, Chung Mui Ken, tells GovInsider what Smart Nation means for the agency and her plans for this year.
What technology are you most excited about in 2016?
With the advancement of mobile connectivity, data can be captured and accessed anywhere, anytime and in many ways. This has opened up a whole new world of technology innovations in areas such as sensors, wearables, machine learning, digital health platforms, personal analytics and gamification, which will have increasing impact on how we live, work and play.
With the rise in tech savviness among the population, the digitisation of health records and proliferation of health-related apps for consumers, technology has become a very powerful enabler that we can leverage to promote health and encourage healthy living.
This is why the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has also evolved in the way we promote health. When HPB was established in 2001, with a vision to build a nation of healthy people, health promotion programmes were mainly delivered through public education and campaigns. In recent years, there has been a strategic shift to incorporate the use of technology to nudge behaviour change and empower Singaporeans to take charge of their health.
”There has been a strategic shift to incorporate the use of technology to nudge behaviour change and empower Singaporeans to take charge of their health”.
How does Smart Nation affect your agency?
According to a survey released on 11 February 2015, Singapore ranks first in smartphone penetration and frequency of instant messaging usage globally.
Leveraging this to empower Singaporeans to take ownership of their health, Ministry of Health (MOH) and HPB has worked closely with MOH Holdings, Integrated Health Information Systems and the public healthcare institutions to develop HealthHub, Singapore’s first one-stop online health information and services portal and mobile application.
Introducing HealthHub, and making it accessible through both a website and a mobile app, brings added convenience to Singaporeans and makes it easier for everyone to take ownership of their own health.
HealthHub includes features such as general health and wellness content, services to allow users to access their personal health records and that of their children’s, as well as various health-related shopping deals. Users are able to earn and accumulate reward points when they share health articles or calendar events on social media platforms.
The aim is to continuously develop HealthHub to make it a useful “must-have” digital health companion for Singaporeans.
”The aim is to continuously develop HealthHub to make it a useful “must-have” digital health companion for Singaporeans.”
We also launched the Healthy 365, a mobile application which powers the National Steps Challenge. It is the first nation-wide steps movement of an unprecedented scale, and has encouraged 156,000 participants to sit less and move more.
For the National Steps Challenge, we integrated a physical activity sensor in the form of a wearable steps tracker with our Healthy 365 mobile app. The app can track calorie intake from foods consumed, calories burnt from the wearable tracker, and provides information on healthier dining eateries, exercise facilities and health-related events in your vicinity. We are encouraged by the popularity of the Healthy 365 app which has continued to be one of the most popular fitness apps among Singaporeans with over 200,000 downloads to-date.
Both projects are aligned with the Government’s vision of a Smart Nation by harnessing information technology to improve lives, create more opportunities and build strong communities. This is also consistent with HPB’s strategic focus to leverage technology to nudge Singaporeans to change their behaviour and adopt healthier lifestyles.
What is the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in 2015?
There will always be challenges, especially if we want to push the frontiers of technology application. Rather than single out what my biggest challenge was in 2015, the more important reminder for me has been to constantly think big, start small, fail fast and learn fast. In this quick paced and ever changing environment, this focus on innovation, adaptability and nimbleness is key to my work.
”The more important reminder for me has been to constantly think big, start small, fail fast and learn fast.”
What is your key priority in 2016?
In 2016, we will build on the foundations we have laid in 2015 and further leverage on technology to boost our health promotion efforts.
For example, we are now planning Season 2 of the National Steps Challenge where we intend to enhance and increase the features in Healthy 365, so as to extend the reach of the social movement to get people to “Sit Less, Move More”. We will make it even easier and more exciting for participants to lead an active lifestyle, eat healthily to ensure caloric balance and sustain the habits of healthy living.
Where did you work before you joined your current agency?
I have held IT leadership positions in various Government agencies.
As a lighter question, how do you like to unwind after a long week at work?
One of the benefits of working in HPB is that I get constant reminders of healthy living so weekends are the time to try and “sit less, move more”.
This is an ongoing series of interviews with Singapore CIOs, outlining their top priorities over the coming year.
Read more: How we built…Singapore’s HealthHub