From massages to messages: healthcare’s use of AI and robots

By Sean Nolan

Cheum Chee Leong, Chief Information Officer, IHH Healthcare Singapore shares how new technology is enhancing patient care.

Would you be able to tell if you were speaking to a robot? AI with human-like voices are manning hospital call centres and reminding patients of upcoming appointments.

“As the demand for healthcare workers continues to increase, AI and automation have become an imperative in order to alleviate workforce shortages,” says Cheum Chee Leong, Chief Information Officer at IHH Healthcare Singapore.

Cheum oversees technology adoption across IHH Healthcare Singapore in hospitals such as Gleneagles, Mount Elizabeth, and Parkway East. He shares how AI and robots are enhancing patient interactions, and how tech will help cope with the country’s aging population.

Robot remedies

Robots are assisting surgical procedures, combining the skill of surgeons with the precision of technology, says Cheum. Surgeons control small robotic arms that are inserted into the body through small incisions.

The robot arms mimic the movement of the surgeon’s hand, “enabling delicate and complex operations to be done safely and accurately”, explained the hospital’s website.

This technology reduces infections, blood loss and post-operation scarring, as only small incisions need to be made. This also means shorter hospital stays for patients, reducing their hospital bill and letting them get back to their daily life.

Robots are providing traditional Chinese massages to patients across Parkway Shenton clinics. The robot uses sensors and vision technology to analyse muscle stiffness, says Cheum.

From there, the robot delivers a massage using a soft silicone thumb attached to a robot arm, he explains. The robot provides a consistent treatment over longer massages, whereas human therapists may be less consistent due to fatigue, the clinics’ website explains.

Customer service with AI

IHH Healthcare Singapore uses AI both for patient engagement and in back office work, Cheum shares. He shares three examples of AI in action.

First, AI predicts hospital bills and provides updates throughout the patient visit. It takes into account individual factors such as age, visit frequency, and conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

The algorithm then allows patients to choose treatment options that are the most cost effective, Cheum explains.

Second, AI chatbots answer patient queries. They direct users to the right forms for their health screenings and to the relevant doctors for their condition. The bot also detects when a patient is distressed and can transfer the discussion to a human colleague for extra support.

Third, AI reminds and confirms appointment times with patients at call centres. It uses a human-like voice, and automatically updates the system records based on the patient’s responses, Cheum highlights. This reduces the load on call centre agents, he adds.

The benefits of AI and automation are clear. They remove or minimise time spent on routine, administrative tasks, which can take up to 70 per cent of a healthcare practitioner’s time, Cheum shares.

Managing the aging population 

Due to increasing life expectancy and low fertility rates, the proportion of Singapore citizens aged 65 years and above is “rising rapidly”, writes the National Population and Talent Division of the Prime Minister’s Office.

It is important healthcare providers can reach elderly patients in their homes, Cheum adds. Studies have shown that the elderly want to remain in their homes as long as they are able, and they expect to live out their days in their current residence, he notes.

Teleconsultation services, supported by remote monitoring, is one way of doing this, he identifies. Hospitals can keep track of patient health through wearable devices, such as connected scales, blood pressure cuffs and remote glucose monitors, Cheum says.

The data collected by these devices will help doctors identify at-risk patients, he highlights. This will enable healthcare providers to intervene earlier before conditions worsen, Cheum explains.

“Automation has enabled our hospitals to simplify and streamline processes, reduce costs, boost productivity and improve accuracy,” he summarises. Technology holds the key to improving the patient experience while reducing the stress on healthcare providers.