Dr Valerie Teo, Family Physician, Consultant & Head, Kallang Polyclinic, National Healthcare Group Polyclinics, Singapore

By Yun Xuan Poon

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your  role or organisation. 

I am currently one of the leads in the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics (NHGP) championing telehealth initiatives and innovation. This involves exploring ways to harness technology to augment and improve the way we help our patients and our staff.

Personally, I feel that technology can sometimes be a double-edged sword which requires discipline and a conscious effort to consider both its advantages (such as improving current processes) and disadvantages (such as when processes become more complex as a result of technology).

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year? 

The most impactful project I worked on this year involved augmenting care for patients with hypertension who visit NHG polyclinics. This project included the use of a Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure device and a phone application that allows patients to sync their blood pressure readings instantly as they monitor their blood pressure.

The application also has in-built algorithms to signal to patients when the reading is  dangerously high or low, prompting them to seek treatment immediately especially when  symptomatic. Additionally, it allows patients to receive personalised reminders to take their blood pressure readings at convenient intervals.

The effectiveness of this programme is that data is synced to a dashboard, where the care  team in the polyclinics are able to review the blood pressure readings. Should there be  abnormal readings, the care team can then contact the patient.

In the evaluation of this project, we found that blood pressure control has improved. It is also more convenient for patients who are eligible for this care model, saving them trips to the clinic as doctors are now able to do most of the consultations through teleconsultations.

Most importantly, patients are more empowered in self-monitoring and self-care. The positive outcomes have been recognised and the project has been conferred the NHG Healthcare Innovation Award 2020 and the NHG Team Recognition Gold Award 2021. The findings of our project have also been published in the Journal of  Telemedicine and Telecare.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021? 

Sometimes, it just takes a spark (like a pandemic) to kickstart some journeys. Being  involved in telemedicine myself for many years, it is often challenging to bring technology  into the equation. But with the recent pandemic, we have begun a very seamless shift in  paradigms and the acceptance and widening of interest in telemedicine.

What I have learnt is that truly good ideas and plans sometimes need a catalyst to motivate people to change and adopt new habits. I have therefore learnt to always look for that spark or trigger that can help to jump start innovative solutions and technological advances.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year? 

My favourite memory is actually meeting various partners, technology start-ups and  people who have interest in telemedicine possibility and innovation in healthcare. The  opportunities I had in the past year to share and explore ideas have been fruitful and I am looking forward to pushing some of them forward in the coming year.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022? 

I am looking forward to a new project that we have been working on. It will involve harnessing learnings from the hospitality industry and applying it in healthcare to improve  patient safety and staff efficiency.

What are your priorities for 2022? 

My priority for 2022 is to make setting aside time for innovation and creativity a habit for myself and my team. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and it takes discipline to set aside time and brain space to think outside of the box and explore ideas and solutions  from various sources. I hope to see this through and of course, spend more time with my  family.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you? 

In the last 2 years, an uncanny person that inspires me is my nephew. Watching him grow up has made me realise how much of that creative and exploratory bone we lose as we get more exposed to norms, protocols and procedures. Interacting with him allows me to tap on my creative side, think outside the box, and apply it to my work.

Another person who spurs me to think outside of the box and challenge the status quo is my CEO, Associate Professor Chong Phui-Nah. These two persons have been my inspiration in my innovation journey as they constantly remind me to explore beyond the limits.

What gets you up in the morning? 

Knowing that it is another day that I get to explore, tackle problems (though some cause  more headache) and try to make things better for my work, family and the patients we care for.