Zenne Tng, Head of Department and Principal Speech Therapist, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore

By Shirley Tay

Women in GovTech Special Report 2020.

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

I am a Principal Speech Therapist who is currently heading the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) Speech Therapy Department. Besides that, I am also the Assistant Director of Centre for Allied Health and Pharmacy Excellence (CAPE) and Centre for Healthcare Innovation (CHI). Innovating healthcare models and improving patients’ quality of life are the two key areas I have devoted my career to pursue. Technology is unquestionably one of the key enablers to achieve these goals.

As a speech therapist, I see individuals with communication difficulties and recommend Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) to those whose daily communication needs are not met by speech or writing. However, high-technology AAC usage in Singapore was and continues to be curbed by multiple factors for instance expensive devices, lack of local distributor, lack of priority in improving communication on top of other dysfunctionalities, lack of awareness among patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers.

This has created an impetus for change. Together with an intensivist, we initiated a program called ‘Help Me Speak’. The program commenced in 2017 by a team of doctors, speech therapists, medical social workers, and operation colleagues. Under this program, speech therapists introduce an eye-gaze device made by a firm called Tobii Dynavox. The device allows patients with communication and physical difficulties to select items or move the cursor on a computer screen using their eye movements. This allows patients to type messages, send emails and surf the Internet despite having difficulty to speak and write.

Patients can loan the device to try out at home and caregivers can be trained to set it up.
Currently, 16 devices are available for loan at TTSH and we have found a local distributor who is willing to distribute the device at a more affordable rate.

This program has empowered patients to embrace the technology, thereby improving their quality of life and independence. Through this device, they continue to communicate with their friends and family, do things that they used to be able to and be socially connected again.

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

I have led my department to re-design our care model to improve accessibility of tele-health and increase the number of patients being offered the service. Comprehensive training including in-person observations have also been arranged for other allied health departments, speech therapists, and community partners from other institutions. The department moved on to pursue innovation funding to further improve our tele-health services by developing software and integrating compatible applications or modules with the current video-conferencing platform used.

Through harnessing these technologies, it is also the department’s hope to eventually up-skill our therapy assistants to conduct low-complexity tele-rehabilitation sessions, resulting in job re-design and workforce transformation.

What is one unexpected learning from 2020?

I have learnt that disruption and innovation go hand-in-hand. The Covid-19 pandemic outbreak is a threat that has been heavily disruptive for everybody, but also an opportunity that inspires innovation. There is a call to action for organisations to improve the delivery of healthcare services.

In TTSH, there is a widespread use of telecommunications technology in lieu of in-person clinical visits to protect healthcare workers and patients from the risk of disease transmission when the circuit breaker kicked in, a stay-at-home order and cordon sanitaire implemented as a preventive measure.

The shift to tele-health provides a tremendous learning opportunity to all of us. In addition, TTSH and National Centre for Infectious Diseases Centre (NCID) have empowered different professional groups swiftly with enhanced roles or responsibilities in response to emergent needs during the crisis.

Staff members from these inter-professional teams were placed in displacement to take on new and cross-disciplinary tasks due to duties’ call. This has built the workforce’s resilience and transformative growth emerged as the workforce embraces new changes and adapts quickly to fight Covid-19 pandemic.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2021?

I am eager to learn more about artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential application at work. AI is predicted to have a significant impact in healthcare advancements due to its ability to emulate human cognition in the analysis, interpretation, and comprehension of complicated medical and healthcare data.

AI systems in healthcare are still at the early phase of development as it takes time to build reliable AI algorithms. Nonetheless, it is crucial to stay ahead of the curve in this evolutionary change so that we could embrace the technology by working alongside AI in the future.

What are your priorities for 2021?

I just have a new addition to my family, my first newborn baby. One of my priorities would be improving work-life integration to create more synergies between work, family, community, personal well-being, and health.

What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in GovTech?

‘Just do it!’. Take a leap of faith to pursue what you are passionate about, embrace your weaknesses and build on your strengths. There is a huge opportunity for the technology industry to grow economically and physically by increasing its diverse workforce. Let your voice heard and presence felt because you could absolutely contribute to improving the diversity and growth of this industry.

Write a message for your future self.

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
― Winston S. Churchill.
The innovation journey can be lonely at times but never forget why you have chosen this path. I have faith in you to continue aiming for a life of meaningful pursuits boldly.