I am witnessing, with wonder, the exponential development of technology in this decade, and its disruption on all sectors – including healthcare services. For instance, laparoscopic surgery has benefited from rapid advances in technological innovation, resulting in improved recovery time and quality of life after surgery. Medical technology has also enabled the development of a device that calculates the risk of recurrence in early-stage breast cancer patients, empowering them to make better informed decisions on treatment.

But technology has its disadvantages. Certain implementations, like the digitisation of patient records, make data vulnerable to mass data breaches. Machines and devices are poor sources of empathy and care, which are critical components during a patient’s recovery. This is why we emphasise a measured approach towards embracing technology, with a specific focus on augmenting the competencies of our healthcare professionals, at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

1. Automation for efficiency

Productivity is important to us. And with the help of technology, we have improved productivity while maintaining patient safety standards by automating time-consuming and menial processes.

In 2016, the implementation of an automated inventory management system has increased the efficiency of Mount Elizabeth Hospital’s operating theatres. Instead of taking around 30 minutes to check the required equipment prior to each surgical procedure, our nurses now can prepare the necessary items in half the time with the aid of a mobile barcode scanning device. This allows them more time to assist post-surgery patients before having to prepare for the next surgical procedure.

In fact, these small time-savings add up to 4,640 manpower hours every year. Encouraged by this successful pilot done in the hospital’s operating theatres, we have introduced the system to our general wards to improve efficiency, so that our nurses have more bandwidth to carry out essential duties, contributing to a higher quality of care for our patients.

2. Plugged in for better integrated care

In April this year, Parkway Pantai’s Singapore Operations Division pledged to contribute its four hospitals’ patient data to the National Electronic Health Records (NEHR) system from as early as November 2018 to provide better integrated care for patients.

Patients today take a more active approach to their health and typically seek medical advice and second opinions across doctors and hospitals. An electronic health records system that can be accessed across multiple healthcare providers cuts down on duplicate medical testing, which then saves time and costs.

I also want to add that this shared digital database is particularly useful in emergencies – where a patient may be unconscious. The ability to access the patient’s medical history quickly allows healthcare professionals to administer appropriate care in a timely manner.

Understandably, we are very concerned about the security and privacy of confidential patient information. But where technology presents challenges, it also presents opportunities. Blockchain technology, essentially an encrypted and decentralised ledger, is one possible way we can secure NEHR data. Already used extensively in the financial services sector, blockchain can be applied in healthcare to securely and comprehensively track a patient’s medical records.

3. Machine learning: quicker processing of information

I see great potential for the application of machine learning in healthcare, especially in radiology. The number of medical images has increased over the decades (hundreds of images can be taken for just one patient), but not so for the number of radiologists within hospitals.

Deep learning machines can read and interpret radiological images faster and more accurately than humans – studies have shown that these machines may spot nuances that are invisible to the naked eye, and can assess a patient’s cancer risk simply by analysing a scan.

Doctors may then focus on other essential parts of their job, such as discussing treatment plans with their patients. However, I want to emphasise that machine learning and artificial intelligence only support how doctors administer diagnoses and treatments, and will never replace our healthcare professionals.

In summary

Technological disruptions in healthcare is a double-edged sword we have to embrace. Positive disruptions can be integrated into existing systems and healthcare staff must be properly trained to identify such opportunities. Also, they should be trained and encouraged to use innovative methods that can enhance the patient experience. Likewise, negative disruptions have to be carefully mitigated through measured and considered policies.

A much-quoted phrase in healthcare is to “treat the patient, not the illness”. For all the advantages technology brings, there is no discounting the human touch in providing care for our patients. Mount Elizabeth Hospital focuses on hiring empathetic staff who will go beyond the call of duty to make a difference to our patients.

Technology is a game changer and I have witnessed how it has opened the door to new and exciting possibilities. Indeed, the future of medicine is a bright one, with plenty of potential to prepare us for new challenges for years to come.

Dr Noel Yeo is CEO of Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.

This article was reproduced with permission and originally published here.