Phillip Drinker was supposed to just repair a malfunctioning air conditioner at a hospital, but the heart wrenching sight of polio patients struggling to breathe stayed with him long after. He went on to create a motorised ‘iron lung’ device in 1928, helping patients breathe once again, wrote the Guardian. 

Advancements in technology have allowed for breakthroughs in patient care, and we are seeing that in Singapore. This year, three of Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s (TTSH) digital initiatives received National Healthcare Innovation and Productivity 2021 Best Practice medals in recognition of their ingenuity.

GovInsider spoke with doctors and healthcare staff to learn how these three tools are impacting patient care today and the next steps in the hospital’s innovations.

Remote rehabilitation and IoT

The first tool is a mobile application that connects patients at home to their carers at the hospital.

The Heart-Track app allows patients with cardiac conditions to undergo remote exercise rehabilitation using wearable devices, explains Senior Physiotherapist Jaclyn Chow. Hospitals can continue with care even as in-person rehabilitation classes closed in the pandemic.

The remote care system “allows us to be able to focus on more complex patients”, says Chow. Healthcare staff can also “individualise” the exercise requirements based on patient capabilities, shares Dr Violet Hoon from the Department of Cardiology.

“Remote care and telehealth will definitely play a substantial and significant role in years to come”, says Dr Hoon. Healthcare providers are looking towards managing patients who are kept in the community and only hospitalising serious cases, she explains.

Telehealth services such as Heart-Track will be even more important with Singapore’s aging population, says Chow. Healthcare staff would be able to manage larger patient loads with remote care.

Analysing scans using AI

Second, Tan Tock Seng Hospital has built an AI system that identifies signs of pneumonia in chest scans. The programme was initially created to identify tuberculosis, says Adjunct Associate Professor Tan Cher Heng from the Department of Diagnostic Radiology (Clinical).

Eugene Fidelis Soh, CEO of Tan Tock Seng Hospital presenting the Best Practice Medal to Adjunct Associate Professor Tan Cher Heng, Senior Consultant, Department of Diagnostic Radiology (Clinical) and Dr Huang Weimin, Senior Scientist, Healthcare and MedTech, Visual Intelligence, A*STAR. Image by TTSH.

However, the pandemic accelerated a move towards using it to identify pneumonia, a possible sign of Covid-19. The AI model was able to “prioritise the films that were abnormal” so patients could be diagnosed and admitted earlier, he explains.

Using AI led to a 20 per cent reduction in the turnaround time for analysing scans and diagnosing patients. This prevented the radiology department from becoming a “bottleneck” in the hospital’s patient management, he shares.

Another benefit of the AI system was manpower efficiency, notes Professor Tan. “We didn’t hire more radiologists” even though “the workload just incrementally went up,” he says.

This tool has already attracted interest from Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines. It could help countries with a higher load of patients and where chest scans are the primary mode of Covid-19 diagnosis, says Professor Tan.

Improving the hospital experience

Third, Tan Tock Seng Hospital has brought its Lean Training online. This is a series of lessons that helps hospital staff identify and resolve day to day inefficiencies, explains Loo Wei Hann, a Manager in the hospital’s Transformation Division.

Mr Loo Wei Hann, a Manager in the hospital’s Transformation Division holding the 2021 Best Practice Medal awarded to the online Lean Training programme.

One significant example of the training’s impact was in the Endocrine and Renal clinic. It often saw long queues forming by the self payment counter. The hospital moved some of the administrative duties to the consultation room and redesigned the physical layout of the clinic, making it simpler for patients to navigate.

The clinic also began delivering medications to repeat patients, which they could then pay for through an app. Patients could walk straight out of the clinic after consultation, reducing wait time from 72 minutes to 27 minutes, says Loo.

Moving staff training online meant they could learn at their own pace from home. Trainers could then guide healthcare staff on the ground, rather than having to be assigned to an instructional role, Loo explains.

Drinker’s ‘iron lung’ saved the lives of thousands of children who had been stricken with polio. Today, tech such as AI and telehealth have the potential to help doctors diagnose conditions earlier, multiply their time, and expand the reach of healthcare services.

Lead image: Jaclyn Chow Jie Ling, TTSH Senior Physiotherapist, and Dr Violet Hoon from the Department of Cardiology, displaying the 2021 Best Practice Medal and the Heart-Track app.