How AI and wearable tech is transforming Singapore’s healthcare

By Yogesh Hirdaramani

Benedict Tan, Group Chief Digital Strategy Officer & Chief Data Officer, SingHealth, shares how SingHealth is using big data to transform the face of healthcare.

A short story by Jorge Luis Borges tells of an utterly exact map, matching locations point for point. This map was so detailed that it was eventually declared useless and torn to shreds. Today, this story is a cautionary tale about the importance of interpreting big data well with the right tools.

With tools like AI and wearable technology, SingHealth is sieving relevant information out of big data. Their goal is to provide predictive health services and continuous care, without forgetting the human touch.

Benedict Tan, the organisation’s Group Chief Digital Strategy Officer & Chief Data Officer, shares how it is using data analytics to provide better care for patients.

Predictive health

SingHealth is using AI to provide personalised healthcare while forecasting risks early. For instance, National Cancer Centre Singapore is developing targeted cancer treatments that can directly destroy cancer cells.

After doctors surgically remove cancer from a patient, they can use AI to identify cancer proteins that are vulnerable to treatments, shares Tan. Such proteins are unique to each person. Once they are detected, clinicians can develop custom vaccines to prevent cancer from returning.

Clinicians are also using AI to quickly predict risks. Singapore National Eye Centre is using AI to analyse patients’ retinal scans to detect signs of diabetic eye diseases, Tan explains. Algorithms bring the time it takes to analyse scans from an hour to ten seconds.

This can quickly alleviate the patient’s anxiety as they no longer need to wait for the scan outcomes, he explains. Beyond that, it also means that healthcare staff no longer need to perform manual scans, and can focus on other tasks.

As of March 2022, SingHealth has set up a partnership with the National Supercomputing Centre and Nvidia to develop a supercomputer at the SGH campus. This supercomputer has expertise in AI, and will help researchers develop more innovations to improve clinical outcomes.

Continuous care

Healthcare providers may soon be able to collect and analyse data from medical devices and wearable tech to provide continuous care for patients with chronic conditions. This includes devices like bedside monitors, fitness trackers, and smart watches.

Such devices can keep tabs on health parameters such as blood pressure and blood glucose levels for patients with hypertension and diabetes, Tan shares. Care providers could potentially analyse this data with AI to predict if the patient’s condition is slowly deteriorating over time, he notes.

This data can empower patients to self-manage chronic conditions. SingHealth is developing an app with the National University of Singapore named EMPOWER which uses AI and patient data to send personalised advice to patients, he shares.

For example, the app may nudge the patient to be more physically active to better control their condition, he explains.

In the future, other remote care apps may help caregivers provide help in a timely manner, which can be life-saving, he notes. When such apps detect irregular readings, they can immediately alert caregivers. Alternatively, if the patient forgets to take a reading, these apps may send a reminder as well.

The personal touch

As healthcare goes digital, it is important to remember the human element and blend tech with personal relationships, he shares. The end goal of digital tech is to “bring out the best in people,” he explains.

Patients are gaining more control over their health as digital health options increase. Tan emphasises that it is important to strengthen patient education, by providing health information in clear, accessible language.

The healthcare system should also incorporate technologies that will make it easier for patients to engage with clinicians, such as patient navigation tools, digital payments, and online consultations, he notes.

It is also important to be mindful of patients who are less tech-savvy. Healthcare providers should ensure that health apps and websites remain easy to use to include patients across demographics, he explains.

Healthcare providers can better serve patients when they have a complete view of patient profiles, he notes. SingHealth has migrated all legacy systems over to a common electronic database as of 2019, shared GovInsider.

Clinicians from different institutions and departments can use this system to collaborate and discuss care plans. This ensures that patients receive seamless care, he explains.

Without data analytics, large amounts of data may be as unreadable as Borges’ map. Health professionals can use tools like AI to make sense of the noise and transform information into practical care for patients.