Sharon Chen, Director, Operations, 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. 

The National Healthcare Group Polyclinics (NHGP) is a public primary healthcare  institution in Singapore, which offers one-stop centres providing a comprehensive range of healthcare services. Our polyclinics manage acute medical conditions and chronic diseases, as well as offer women & child health services and dental care.

I oversee the Clinic Operations and Operations Support Services team in NHGP. A large part of my work involves challenging the status quo and improving work processes and patients' journeys (both physically and virtually) through innovation and digital transformation.

Together with my team, some of the notable initiatives we have delivered include:

  • empowering our patients to perform self-help services such as mobile registration, same-day and follow-up appointment making, bills payment, medication delivery, particulars update, real-time queue status checking;

  • automating work processes such as patient billing, outstanding bill collection, checking in and checking out of patients for tele consultation;

  • digitalising the visitor screening and safe entry verification process;

  • implementing the new electronic patient management system; and

  • designing and developing the new queue management system

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

In the past, patients had to spend time queuing up at counters to get their next appointment date. Appointment-making, when done manually, increases the possibility of human errors leading to the need for additional manpower to subsequently rectify issues.

Seeing a gap in service delivery, my team and I worked on enhancing the self check-out kiosks with a smart appointment auto-generation logic that provides a follow-up appointment-making function. After the enhancement, patients are now able to select from three sets of best matched (according to the clinicians’ instructions and advice) appointment date/time options.

We also further enhanced the kiosk system allowing patients to opt for medication delivery. Patients can select a preferred date and time slot for their medication to be delivered to their home, with the earliest being as soon as the following day.

Looking ahead, teleconsultation is the new normal and will be here to stay. Hence, we also planned for these features to be made available on mobile applications. Through these applications, patients can book their follow-up appointment and make arrangements for medication delivery anywhere, anytime.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021? 

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives, there were good things which came out of it. For example, technology adoption and receptiveness have been embraced and celebrated in new ways.

While telecommuting and teleconferencing are not new, this pandemic has definitely accelerated the shift and pushed the uptake and maturation of these virtual avenues to the fore. The imperative and narrative for technology as an enabler and not a threat received broad acceptance across diverse user groups. Many stakeholders are galvanised to adjust work flows and adopt new work streams to create synergistic outcomes with patients’ care in mind.

In NHGP, management teams and employees have banded together to create a virtual work environment that is not only productive but also enjoyable. While we may not be able to have physical events, this did not dampen our spirits. Instead, it spurred us to think creatively and continue with celebrations virtually. For instance, NHGP’s Quality Day and CEO Townhalls have all gone virtual!

What’s your favourite memory from the past year? 

I would say that my favourite memory from 2021 would be my visit to the Singapore Zoological Garden with my family. During this Covid-19 pandemic where all of us are kind of grounded in Singapore, I thought it was an excellent opportunity for us to explore our little red dot and to show support for our local attractions.

To be honest, the last time I visited Singapore Zoo was some 20 years ago! I must say that I had a very enjoyable and relaxing day, away from the usual hustle and bustle. I felt like a curious tourist, taking time to roam the park, catching the animal show and taking in the sights of the flora and fauna around me. Looking forward to my next expedition!

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

I hope to be able to leverage technologies such as augmented reality and AI to bring our patient’s experience and healthcare journey to the next level. I am eager to see the fruition of combining AR and AI to share information in more captivating ways and to design richer, more intuitive experiences for our diverse population.

What are your priorities for 2022? 

The pursuit of excellence is a continuous journey, always with goals for even better and improved outcomes. In 2022, I hope to continue my passion in leveraging technology to push the ever-expanding boundaries of digital transformation in the primary healthcare setting. I hope to be able to improve the experience of our patients from what it is today to what it can be in future.

In the past, our patients had to go to manned counters to perform most, if not all, their transactions – registration, appointment booking, payment, referrals, and so on. Now, we have come some way in the area of self-help services – most of these transactions can now be done via self-help kiosks with minimal human interventions.

However, as technology moves and the landscape changes, kiosks are no longer good enough. In 2022, I would like to focus on equipping our patients and caregivers to self-help through their mobile phones. This way, they can access their care needs wherever and whenever. Singapore has one of the world’s highest mobile phone penetration, presenting us with a huge untapped opportunity to go in this direction.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you? 

I believe there is something for me to learn from every person I meet. Through my course of work, I have benefitted greatly from the knowledge and experience shared by my bosses, colleagues, staff, patients, caregivers, vendors, and so on.

In today’s highly integrated and interdependent healthcare ecosystem, no success can be ascribed to a single person’s merits and deeds. I have benefitted from a highly supportive and progressive management team who are staunch proponents of the values and benefits our pursuits offer to our patients.

They have nurtured a protective environment for bold experimentations and fledging ventures. Impactful changes will cause natural discomfort to established norms and challenge long-acquired familiarity. I am fortunate to have patients and supportive colleagues who hear us out enough to be convinced.

Without that trust and management support, projects would not have seen the light of day. Neither would we have seen the improvements to productivity and the benefits that follow. All these are testaments to the strong corporate culture of collaboration and cohesiveness and that inspired me to press on and to deliver.

A famous English scientist Isaac Newton had a saying that aptly describes how I feel: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.

What gets you up in the morning? 

I feel privileged to be able to add value to people’s lives in a tangible way. Being able to measure the results and witness the impact of my work gives me immense motivation to get up in the morning.