How do you use technology and innovation to improve patients’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation. 

SingHealth is Singapore’s largest public healthcare cluster with 30,000 staff across our network of acute hospitals, national specialty centres, polyclinics and community hospitals.

As Group Director of Innovation and Transformation at SingHealth, I work with colleagues across the cluster from various professional groups including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and administrators, and the various institutional innovation offices and programmes to catalyse healthcare transformation through strategic cluster-wide transformation projects, as well as support locally-led innovation.

The Division of Innovation and Transformation that I oversee comprises the SingHealth Office for Innovation, the Singhealth Medical Technology Office, the SingHealth Office for Service Transformation, and our upcoming SingHealth Duke-NUS Innovation Centre.

I see technology as a critical enabler in innovation. Some of the most impactful innovations are those where we fundamentally redesign work processes, train our people to be ready for new workflows, and undergird this with new technology that acts as a force multiplier for our busy healthcare professionals.

For instance, the SingHealth Office for Service Transformation and SingHealth Artificial Intelligence (AI) Programme, supported by the National Medical Research Council and Integrated Health Information Systems, partnered with A*STAR to develop a multi-lingual messaging bot called Doctor COVID in 2020.

The bot helped SingHealth to engage and care for thousands of migrant workers with Covid-19 at the SingHealth-managed community care facilities, such as Singapore EXPO, at the height of the pandemic last year.

Doctor COVID enabled the broadcasting of critical information and content in different languages for the migrant workers’ easy understanding. It also had self-reporting questionnaires to monitor the migrant workers’ clinical risk factors and mental wellbeing.

In 2021, Doctor COVID was further developed in partnership with the Singapore General Hospital to allow our nurses to monitor and communicate with higher-risk Covid-19 patients who were discharged from the hospital for home recovery.

The bot frees up nurses from having to make repeated phone calls to check for patients’ vital signs by sending automated reminders to patients directly. Additionally, it automatically alerts nurses through a dashboard if patients’ vital signs cross a certain threshold.

The bot can also send multilingual videos and other messages as patient education to keep an eye on patients’ wellbeing. This is a good example of a new workflow that was jointly developed by nurses, doctors, and process redesigners, enabled by robust technology, technical experts, and IT colleagues. Most importantly, the technology was tested on the ground and refined with feedback from patients and staff.

 What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

In June 2021, we launched the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medicine Innovation Institute (AMII). AMII brings together the various innovation programmes and innovation offices across the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre, to jointly map out our innovation strategy and better support our innovators.

I co-chair AMII together with my counterpart from Duke-NUS, and am thrilled about the network of innovation leaders who are leading several exciting initiatives and priority areas as part of AMII.

For instance, one priority area is looking at how we can push forward meaningful adoption and scaling of successful innovations. We also set up a joint SingHealth Duke-NUS unit for impact assessment, which evaluates innovations for their impact and potential benefit, and guides funding and scaling of these innovations.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021? 

What many people expected when Covid-19 struck was that innovation would dry up as healthcare professionals would hunker down to only look at business-as-usual work. But we saw the opposite in SingHealth.

In the past 2 years, we have experienced a 400 per cent jump in the number of applications for internal innovation seed grants, and tremendous interest in innovation. Our innovation seminars, such as our webinars on artificial intelligence, also saw a high participation rate from staff as compared to before the pandemic.

What’s an innovation project/technology you’re excited to explore in 2022?

I’m always excited to explore new technologies and always keen to hear about new innovation projects. Indeed, that comes with the job!

What are your priorities for 2022?

As a working mother, finding the right balance between the work I do and the people I would like to help on one hand, and my duties to my dear family on the other is always tricky. In 2022, a top priority is to work on this balance.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

SingHealth’s Group CEO, Prof Ivy Ng, is someone who has been a mentor figure to me. She has always been generous in sharing her own experience, beyond work. Her tenacity and vision inspire me.

I had the privilege of working with Mr Lim Siong Guan, when he was a Permanent Secretary. His values and wisdom motivate me and I hold dearly the lessons he taught me. My Christian faith is important to me and is my anchor as well. Finally, my parents’ selflessness and love inspire me to do better each day.

What gets you up in the morning?

One of the things we started two years ago under the SingHealth Office for Innovation was a multi-disciplinary innovation clinic. The clinic allows our innovators to get advice from a panel of experts, and more recently, access seed funding as well.

I am always inspired during these clinic sessions, because we see healthcare professionals at all levels, from junior nurses to senior neurologists or mid-level administrators, coming to share problems that bug them, and talk about how they are going to solve it. I feel energised by these sessions as they remind me of why my team and I do the work we do in supporting innovation – so that we can solve problems, improve patient and clinical outcomes, and lighten our staff’s load through innovation and technology.

I always leave these sessions inspired by the passion and energy of our innovators, and their desire to put patients at the heart of all they do.