The Iron Giant tells the story of a huge robot that befriends a human child, eventually protecting him and countless others when a missile is headed straight for them. While robots today are more software than superstructure, they are still helping to save lives.

Robots are capable of doing things beyond human capabilities, making them ideal candidates to protect us at our most vulnerable. SingHealth is making the most of automated machines, leaving hospital clinicians to focus on adding the much-needed human touch.

Group Chief Information Officer Kevin Tay and other SingHealth leaders discuss how robots can help healthcare providers to monitor and aid patient safety. They also share how sensors and mobile apps that measure eyesight are transforming care.

Automated safety guardians

SingHealth is Singapore’s largest group of healthcare providers. It has dispatched robots at some of its hospitals’ COVID-19 wards to take over some nursing tasks. This reduces the amount of exposure between healthcare staff and patients.

These robots are programmed to educate patients that have a high risk of falling and share reminders on safety precautions. They have even taken over some patrolling at night and can respond to non-urgent patient requests, Tay adds.

SingHealth has also put in place automated systems to ensure nurses follow hygiene protocols, explains Tay. The system uses sensors to measure the distance between staff members and hand wash stations. This is key in “minimising healthcare-acquired infections” among patients, he says.

Clinicians are receiving help from robots too. An automated medication system picks, packages, and dispenses the drugs with mechanical precision. This ensures the quantity and type of medication is collected accurately, improving patient safety by eliminating “preventable medical errors”, he says.

Robots to the rescue

Its hospitals’ behind the scenes work has also benefited from automation. Staff shifts are now organised automatically, accounting for skill requirements, staff experience and competency. This replaces the “tedious and time consuming” previous manual organisation, Tay explains.

Robots have also taken over billing and claims processes, which tend to be dull, mundane work. This frees up staff to be “deployed to other important tasks”, he emphasises.

SingHealth is looking to explore facial recognition technology to automate registration and identify patients who need urgent attention, he says. They are also looking to adopt blockchain technology, as its tamper-proof systems can help to accurately trace a medication’s origin.

Arming nurses with digital tools

SingHealth has been developing other technologies to train its healthcare professionals. It created a game that helps nurses practice inserting a tube into the arm, explains Ms Andrea Choh, Nurse Clinician at the Singapore General Hospital.

A glove with woven-in sensors detects the amount of pressure nurses apply when inserting the tube into a 3D printed arm. This virtual patient is also able to speak with the nurse, so they can practice their communication skills in a “risk-free environment”, Choh says.

This training helped create a more realistic scenario, as the 3D printed arm has a similar texture to a human arm. It also allowed training to continue even with safe distancing measures in place, she notes.

The team is looking to build more gamified training programmes, and are collaborating with other professionals on this. These will involve multiplayers and multiple learning objectives, she shares.

Eye spy a new app

SingHealth will soon allow patients to test their own eyesight from home. One example of this is the EySee app, which is currently under development, says Associate Professor Gavin Tan, Senior Consultant at the Singapore National Eye Centre.

The app aims to help patients carry out a 15-minute eye test remotely, saving time when visiting an eye clinic. It looks to encourage more at-home healthcare monitoring, so patients will only need to visit the clinic when necessary, Tan explains.

While there are other apps that test eyesight, EySee has been specially designed to accommodate the visually impaired and elderly. The app responds to voice-activated commands, making it accessible for those with “poor hand-eye coordination”, he says.

While they don’t face the same threats as the Iron Giant, patients can still stand to benefit from the protection of robots. Automation has helped to ensure safety, efficiency and convenience while new innovations encourage easier staff and patient learning.