The stark reality of a manpower crunch looms large over the healthcare industry. Systems are ill-equipped to treat chronic conditions instead of acute ones. And the silver tsunami threatens to engulf the region.

In the face of these facts, government agencies and healthcare providers in Singapore and Malaysia are becoming smarter about how they provide care and services. Through the use of technology, design thinking, and lean management, hospitals in these countries are putting patients at the centre of healthcare, while also cutting down on waiting times and eliminating wasteful processes.

Read on for our roundup of five ways that healthcare is changing.

1. A holistic approach to mental healthcare

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Mental health issues are often not as easy to spot or treat as physical ones, and often, there is no one treatment or solution. To create a more holistic approach to healthcare, Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health (IMH) has stepped up efforts to integrate care within the hospital and increase support outside of it. This approach includes design thinking, treatment revamps and a greater focus on preventative healthcare.

Staff stayed overnight in the wards to empathise with patients and understand how it felt to be admitted, so that they could build a more soothing, less sterile environment that encouraged recovery.

Next, IMH created multi-disciplinary teams of doctors that would be assigned to a patient’s entire term of care, where previously, different doctors would handle inpatient and outpatient care. The hospital also worked with welfare and social service organisations to give patients educational, vocational and housing support within their communities.

Nurses or psychologists at the hospital double up as case managers that function as a “single point of contact” for patients. They work with families to keep lower-functioning patients “meaningfully occupied so that there is meaning and worth to life”, Daniel Fung, Chairman of the Medical Board, told GovInsider.

2. Lean management to cut waiting times

waiting for a doctor

A hospital in Malaysia cut waiting times by half using lean management techniques. Lean management asks all parts of an organisation to join in finding efficiencies and cutting waste. The central principle is that staff are constantly looking to remove wasteful processes.

In Malaysia, a hospital clinic took simple steps, like getting the next patient in line to wait outside the doctor’s door to save time. “We use lean management techniques to remove bottlenecks and focus on the speed at which processes are completed,” wrote Idris Jala, CEO of Malaysia’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit in a blog post.

Hospitals without sophisticated IT systems used colour-coded magnets to indicate bed availability and coordinate bed allocations, Dr Nor Akma bt Yusuf in the Ministry of Health told GovInsider. Meanwhile, lounges were created for older patients who were discharged but had to wait for their transport home. This ensured that the beds were freed up as quickly as possible for new patients to be treated.

3. The robot receptionist

Selina with Hospi Robot

Changi General Hospital in Singapore began using robotics for logistics. Robots move documents, drugs, medical specimens and linen around, navigating around the corridors on their own. In the future, it plans to use robots to move heavier objects like patient beds.

The second area for robots is to directly interact with patients. For instance, robots could get information on symptoms from patients while they wait to see a doctor. “We are looking at robots to be the interface between humans,” Changi General Hospital’s Assistant Chief Executive Selina Seah told GovInsider.

And third is to use robots for surgeries and rehabilitation. “They can help in making sure that the treatment is consistent and precise, far more than a human,” said Seah. Robots would be able to pinpoint the exact location of tumours, for instance, and minimise damage to healthy tissue during surgeries.

4. Healthcare and the Internet of Things

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Malaysia is making inroads into improving care delivery through the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) networks to gather patient data.

Eventually, Malaysia wants to create a system where patients’ wearables will send information to their doctors. One of the first government pilots in the recently-launched national IoT plan will be in healthcare, where wearables will measure vital health data like heartbeat, amount of exercise and number of calories.

“We are letting the private sector play a big role now, but that [wearables] information will have to come in soon,” Dr Fazilah Shaik Allaudin, Deputy Director of Telehealth at the Ministry of Health, told GovInsider.

Malaysia’s healthcare providers now have access to a shared database of healthcare data of patients, allowing for better quality of care across the board. A patient portal that allows doctors to monitor their patients remotely will soon be launched.

5. Design thinking to eliminate waste

Advanced practice nurse

A hospital in Singapore cut waiting times by 40% in its outpatient pharmacy by redesigning the outpatient centre and its work processes. Tan Tock Seng Hospital used a technique called design thinking which puts users’ needs at the centre of how services are designed.

The hospital eliminated “wasteful” tasks that did not add value for patients, its Chief Nurse, Yong Keng Kwang, told GovInsider. For example, wards were redesigned so that nurses spend less time moving around and more time be patients’ bed side. Clinics have been reorganised into self-sufficient units, combining consultation, treatment and waiting rooms, to cut waiting times to see doctors.

In the pharmacy, repetitive tasks have been automated so that staff can spend more time serving patients waiting for their medication. For instance, a robot now reads electronic prescriptions, packs medicines and labels them with a barcode linked to the correct patient.

Images by Pexels, IMH, Francisco OsorioCC BY 2.0, Pixabay, Changi General Hospital, and Tan Tock Seng Hospital