Melanie Kam, Director, Innovation and Grants, Centre for Healthcare Innovation, Singapore

By Sean Nolan

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

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

The Centre for Healthcare Innovation (CHI) is a co-learning network founded on the concept that we learn better together as a Community of Practice. We are an open learning platform, an ecosystem of value-enabling alliances. Through our network, like-minded local and overseas innovation partners will co-learn and collaborate by building thought leadership in healthcare innovation, transforming the workforce for our future, and developing new training and andragogy. We will meet current and future healthcare challenges through innovative and value-driven care delivery to the populations we serve.

As a director in CHI, I manage the financial levers of innovation, through various funding programmes that focus on driving innovation and upskilling; and lead innovation enabler programmes to build a vibrant ecosystem for healthcare innovation, and facilitate innovation projects.

I am also currently the lead managing the design and implementation of a healthcare innovation knowledge management platform, aimed to enhance learning and sharing and accelerate innovation, for the Singapore healthcare community and beyond.

In my role, I meet many aspiring and seasoned innovators who are seeking funding, support and collaboration to further their innovation within the healthcare environment. One of the challenges that we often face is bridging the last mile from an innovation to care delivery.

Often, within a corporate environment, an innovation is seen as a product where questions like return-of-investments and a business plan are asked, because the risk of investing in an innovation is high. Innovations are by nature new and untested, until they are able to do a proof-of-concept or proof-of-value, to demonstrate the innovation’s viability. This poses a challenge for start-ups, SMEs and intrapreneurs to test their innovation in a suitable environment, and also limits access to new technology for patients.

So, how do you enable innovation instead of stifling it? We need to help innovators get that head start towards being a viable product that can benefit patients and the community at large. What CHI and our partners are trying to do is to push the envelope where we can encourage people to innovate and test in a quick and accessible environment.

To embrace innovation, we need to align our structures, processes and people to enable. I am privileged to bring together a diverse team of professionals for the recently launched CHI Start-up Enterprise Link (CHISEL), which is just one example of a larger system that we would like to cultivate and develop to further encourage innovators

Adopting a sandbox and marketplace approach, CHISEL enables start-ups and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to be matched to suitable implementation hospital partners, to demonstrate the value of its innovations in a simulated clinical setting, bridging and accelerating the last mile from innovation to care delivery.

We partnered with Temasek Foundation, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and National University Hospital (NUH) to organise the Healthcare InnoMatch, an open call for proposals targeting today’s healthcare challenges. Three companies were finally chosen to receive S$1.2 million in project development funding, and are individually matched to TTSH, SGH, and NUH to test-bed their solutions.

Working with the three hospitals, I have also helped to align principles, criteria, goals, and to use a common evaluation framework (CHI Evaluation Framework (CHIEF)), which would assist in the final evaluation of test-bedding outcomes to assess if an innovation is fit for implementation in a hospital setting. The collaborative test-beds will allow the know-how and outcomes to be extended across the hospitals, bringing the innovations a step closer to patients faster.

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

Hands down, the most exciting and impactful project for this year is the inaugural Healthcare InnoMatch, an initiative under CHISEL. Through this event, it was heartening for us to receive 144 applications from around the world, each bringing fresh ideas and perspectives to the healthcare challenges we posed. Innovators had the opportunity to connect with us, better understand the local healthcare landscape and our population needs; and together with our clinical partners, they get to explore new opportunities to improve care.

With so many wonderful innovative proposals, it took the combined effort from all three hospitals to shortlist the final 3 companies who will benefit from the funding and test-bedding opportunities. This is what forms the essence of CHISEL and Healthcare InnoMatch, where the alignment of evaluation criteria between hospitals will result in the innovations being developed at scale and at speed, benefitting healthcare providers, patients, as well as start-ups and SMEs.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021? 

Innovation can happen and should happen even during crisis. It’s easy to think that we should keep our focus solely on what’s burning at the door, instinctively innovating only for the purpose of battling the pandemic. However, in all of this, the needs and demands in other areas of healthcare remain. My unexpected learning is that in thinking about innovation for these areas and the future, it refreshes people’s minds and gives a sense of renewal in what feels like a long drawn pandemic.

Although you might find yourself at times unable to move forward with plans because of the pandemic, you can instead take that time to tune up/refine, make the changes that you need to adapt, and prepare for the next opportune time to introduce it. Sometimes when innovating, it will feel like you are swimming against the current, and that everyone else’s focus is elsewhere, putting innovation in the backseat. But, have faith that the opportune time will emerge, and you have to be ready for that.

To continue driving such innovation efforts, I have also learnt to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, and the ability to adapt to the many changes due to the pandemic, and that no matter how comfortable we might feel with stability and structure, we have the capacity to adapt to the environment and still strive.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year? 

My favourite memory would be the shared camaraderie with the CHI team as we navigated the rapidly changing social measures, and how the team remained undeterred when the original two-day CHI INNOVATE 2021, our flagship learning event had to be cancelled days before it should take place, because of the pandemic.

Instead, we banded together and took the opportunity to redesign the format of CHI INNOVATE 2021 into engaging live online sessions spread out over the remaining part of the year. The faculty and speakers remained committed to the learning, and stuck through with us, as we changed plans several times, while juggling their own work / pandemic commitments in Singapore and other countries.

The only memory this year that can top this, is the fact that I am finally going home! The pandemic has been a difficult ride, and for people separated from their families, it can feel especially testing. I am exhilarated to be reunited with my family in Malaysia after 2 years!

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

I am hopeful for the introduction of new tools and techniques to explore next year, and most of all, I’m looking forward to working with the team and our partner hospitals in implementing CHIEF as a validated technique to evaluate innovation for adoption.

Going beyond the product feasibility evaluation stage, CHIEF will guide in evaluating if an innovation is operationally viable, and if it will be impactful in caring for patients and the community at large. After product validation, the innovation is evaluated for its impact on care and process, and how it will increase efficiency and quality of care through process and job redesign. When implemented, the innovation should also meet conditions that would qualify it as being a positive and impactful change on a systems level, demonstrating safety and efficacy, as well as cost effectiveness.

I am hopeful that the establishment of CHIEF as a validated framework will help accelerate the adoption of new innovations.

What are your priorities for 2022? 

For 2022, together with the CHI team, I will look at different ways to drive the adoption of innovation and implementation at scale and at speed. So, part of the work would be to analyse and review the current processes that are in place, and to collaborate with people who share the same objectives. With our combined efforts, we will enable healthcare professionals and patients easy access to new technology in the public healthcare sphere.

We will also continue to create more opportunities for collaborations that will dovetail into innovative initiatives that enable workforce transformation and value driven healthcare.

To last this marathon, self-care will be one of my priorities, and I encourage everyone to practice that as well. I re-energize myself through staying physically fit and eating healthy. I set aside time to train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Boxing, which helps in building strength and focus. That always keeps me refreshed! It also helps negate the caloric effects of my other love - baking and keeping my friends well fed!

More than all of this, is to nurture and treasure the relationships with loved ones. A challenge that I faced in the last 2 years, that I think many can identify with, is the inability to travel. I saw my resilience deplete over time, when I was unable to travel home to meet my family. Still, the daily chatter over WhatsApp messages, the warmth from my friends and colleagues, keeps me driven. With the recent launch of the vaccinated travel lane, I am looking forward to catch up on those missed moments.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you? 

I am most inspired by the spirit of altruism and the belief in doing the right thing that I see in my healthcare colleagues, whether they are at the frontlines, back room, or in leadership roles. They have the ability to muster strength and courage and have the fortitude to push through a crisis, even when exhausted.

I have also been fortunate to work with a great management team in TTSH. They have given their time to teach and mentor me, and the trust to do my job well. Through their actions, they inspire me to be a better steward to others by emulating them.

What gets you up in the morning?

The possibility that I can make a change today no matter how small, because small changes will add up to an impactful one. I am also excited at the prospect of learning about new innovations and developments, through the various engagements and interactions with my teammates. Their enthusiasm in contributing to a positive change is infectious, whether it is a conversation to bounce ideas off each other, or sharing on their projects. They inspire me with their spirit and I always leave meetings more driven.

I wake up for this.