When your loved one is injured or unwell, the last thing you want is to wait for hours in a hospital to get a doctor’s attention.

For instance, the median waiting time for admission into the emergency department at Singapore’s busiest hospital last year was over eight hours. As manpower and resource constraints strain hospitals, hospitals are trialling new approaches to make the experience a little less painful.

Chua Chee Yong, Director of Emerging Services at Singapore’s healthtech agency – Integrated Health Information Systems (IHIS) – shared how the country is looking into using chatbots, AI and virtual reality to improve patients’ experience.

Emergency services

IHIS is shortlisting companies to work with hospitals on how chatbots can be used for healthcare services. One particular area of impact could be to triage symptoms and redirect patients to the right care, Chua says.

Users enter their symptoms on to the chatbot, which then explains to patients the next steps they need to take. The system will integrate with the local healthcare system to help users narrow down the exact care a patient will require based on their symptoms. He highlighted that in today’s complex healthcare system, patients need more personalised attention.

The chatbot could provide a single platform for patients by pulling together information from different departments in a hospital. “[If] you say ‘I want to make an appointment’ then I will redirect you to a bot that makes appointments; ‘I want to do some triaging for my kids’, I will then redirect you to a bot that knows a bit on kids pediatric triaging,” he explained.

The chatbots could be first trialled in doctors’ waiting rooms and at accident and emergency departments. “When patients start to use it themselves, maybe next time hopefully, when they have an emergency, they can pick up the app and start using it on the way to see the doctor,” Chua added.

Doctors in hospitals and clinics might also use it to narrow their focus on symptoms mentioned and help identify the treatment faster. Doctors can also use it to prioritise urgent situations if required.

Antibiotic resistance

Another concept that is being trialled is using AI to cut down on incorrect prescriptions and combat the rise of antibiotic resistance.

Prescription of antibiotics in Singapore is left to the discretion of individual doctors’ assessment of their patients. This discrepancy in standards means that over 30% of antibiotics is currently prescribed inaccurately.

The AI powered machine could instead collect doctor’s medical notes, as well as patient’s vital signs, allergies and previous lab results to recommend a treatment regime. It will recommend antibiotics based on the patient’s symptoms as well as drug-resistant infection data collected from communities, wards and hospitals.

If there is a wrong diagnosis indicated by future test results, the AI can update the prescription while notifying the doctor of the change.

Reducing anxiety

Surgery can often be a harrowing experience for patients. Anxiety and fear also can reduce the likelihood of recovery post-operation. With increased strain on manpower, doctors and nurses have less time to spend with patients before their surgeries.

Singapore General Hospital is looking into ways virtual and augmented reality can be used to run patients through their surgeries and procedures, without increasing workload for nurses and doctors. The patient need not come to the hospital to prepare for their surgery but instead can do so at the comfort of their home at their own pace, Chua added.

Tackling diabetes

Next, Singapore is looking to cut down hospital visits for diabetics by allowing them to do screenings from home. In Singapore, diabetes patients are recommended to get annual foot screenings. The event busies large portions of nursing power and with increasing diabetes patients, the current trend is unsustainable.

Instead, a mobile app can help screen foot wounds of diabetic patients from home, Chua said. Patients submit photos of their wounds on the app, which screens and then classifies them to be of low, moderate or high risk. Each risk level has an associated instruction, like telling patients to continue routine care for relatively low risk factors or referring them to a hospital for immediate treatment.

These tools could ensure that patients have a better experience in clinics and hospitals, while ensuring that medical staff are not overwhelmed.

Image by Brother UKCC BY 2.0