KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) has turned to AI imaging to make scoliosis surgeries quicker and more accurate.

It is Singapore’s largest hospital specialising in women and children health. As the nation moves towards digital health, the hospital is using AI, 3D printing and blockchain to make healthcare safer for its young patients.

GovInsider spoke to Associate Professor Kevin Lim, Chairman of the Division of Surgery and Senior Consultant at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at KKH to learn more.

1. Machine vision surgery

Severe scoliosis often needs surgery. The condition is most common among children aged 10 to 16, and some of KKH’s patients are as young as under three years old.

KKH’s unique 7D imaging system uses AI imaging to improve the accuracy and efficiency of scoliosis surgeries. The system can map the spine for correction in mere seconds, instead of the usual 30 minutes, says Lim.

“This translates to shorter and more efficient surgery, with very minimal blood loss,” he explains. Patients will be able to recover more quickly after the surgery.

The procedure is also radiation-free, unlike conventional surgical methods, he notes. Children are exposed to less risk, and operating theatres no longer need expensive lead insulation.

“Depending on the severity of the condition, scoliosis could mean limited participation in team sports and outdoor activities, or even extended absence from school,” Lim says. Reducing the risks of scoliosis surgery could help young patients in their developmental years.

2. 3D printing

3D printing is another tool that is helping young children with limb and spine conditions. One unit in KKH’s Musculoskeletal Centre uses the tech to create personalised assistive devices for patients, says Lim.

This was not the hospital’s first foray into 3D printing tech. It uses anatomically accurate 3D-printed models to treat limb deformities, wrote its website.

These allow doctors to better assess a condition, plan treatments and simulate surgeries. Surgeons can pre-empt and prepare for technical challenges before they occur during the operation. The models are also helpful when explaining a child’s condition to family members.

KKH has used 3D printed models to train heart surgeons, the hospital told GovInsider. Surgeons typically use 2D images and their previous experience to prepare for heart surgeries. But children have smaller hearts, and some birth-related heart defects could make planning more tricky. 3D heart models can help surgeons be more precise.

3. Blockchain

KKH is using blockchain to track how data moves to other hospitals and patients, Lim shares. This helps to secure data transfers, as the hospital can clearly see where the data has been.

This tech can also be applied across medical supply chains to make sure drugs are verified and safe. For instance, French tech company BlockPharma uses blockchain to verify drug shipments at all points in the transportation process. Its app warns patients if they’re taking counterfeit medicine, wrote Built In.

4. AI chatbot

KKH is now piloting an online chatbot for parents and caregivers to seek medical advice, Lim says. The KKH U-PAL Chatbot helps with common conditions such as fever, cough, diarrhoea and vomiting.

This will help to relieve patient loads at the children’s emergency department, wrote Singapore’s healthtech agency IHiS, which is supporting this initiative. Less complex and severe cases can be treated at other healthcare facilities such as family clinics instead.

The chatbot handles an average of 150 chats every day, IHiS reveals. KKH and IHiS are working to finetune the algorithm so it can understand longer questions that contain more than one question.

Patient safety is a priority for every hospital, but perhaps it’s even more so in paediatric care. AI, 3D printing and blockchain can help to make medical procedures safer and less risky for children.

This article was updated to reflect the latest number of chats the chatbot handles each day.