An insider peek into upcoming innovations for elderly care

By Yogesh Hirdaramani

Artificial intelligence promises to change the game for healthcare in Singapore by pushing predictive and preventive healthcare to new heights. Here are some upcoming innovations that will use AI to better support healthcare for an ageing population.

Charitable healthcare organisation SATA CommHealth is currently running a fall prevention programme and aims to tap on AI to support their efforts. Image: SATA CommHealth

Since a mobile app by Singapore’s Ministry of Health and Apple was launched in late 2020, it has helped active participants complete over 32 million workouts. Using gamification and wearable technology, LumiHealth is one ever-present way Singapore has promoted healthy behaviour and improved healthcare outcomes for residents – all without stepping foot into a clinic.


Now the government plans to scale up LumiHealth’s success with its Healthier SG strategy. Healthcare agencies aim to address the needs of the country’s ageing population through preventive care, which empowers residents to maintain healthier lifestyles so as to nip illnesses in the bud before they even develop.


GovInsider speaks to healthcare experts to learn about upcoming innovations that will help patients manage chronic conditions, and support healthcare systems in detecting at-risk patients quickly.


Predicting fall risks


During Covid-19, charitable healthcare organisation SATA CommHealth supported the public healthcare system with their mobile diagnostics buses and supported widespread vaccination by deploying healthcare teams to migrant worker dormitories and nursing homes. 

Dr Kelvin Phua, Chief Executive Officer of SATA CommHealth Image: SATA CommHealth

Past the pandemic, SATA CommHealth’s main role is to support the health of the country’s ageing population with medical centres, mobile medical services, and home care and rehabilitation services, shares Dr Kelvin Phua, CEO of SATA CommHealth.      


Currently, one of their key initiatives is a fall prevention programme, having recently run an  Osteoporosis and Fall Prevention Festival in late 2022. 


Dr Phua shares with GovInsider that falls are a key risk for seniors. Approximately 8,000 seniors in Singapore aged 65 and above were admitted to hospitals each year from 2013 to 2016 as a result of falls, and the number of hip fractures each year is projected to reach 9,000 by 2050, according to SATA CommHealth.


They are working with leading Fortune 500 global technology services company DXC Technology to develop a platform to screen seniors who have a high risk of falls. By measuring various parameters such as poor balance and low muscle strength, SATA CommHealth aims to identify seniors who are at high risk for falls. 


SATA CommHealth is exploring if it is possible to integrate AI into the screening programme to tailor targeted interventions specific to each senior, and monitor the senior’s improvement over time. For instance, the AI might tell an elderly male patient that he would benefit from tai chi sessions over Zumba lessons, highlighted Dr Phua.


For now, SATA CommHealth is looking to align the development of the falls screening programme alongside the nationwide HealthierSG strategy to maximise impact. Dr Phua is hopeful that Healthier SG’s data-gathering exercise will support the charity’s work in supporting the elderly.


“With better data comes better tailored interventions for seniors and better outcomes for them,” says Dr Phua. In turn, this will support the charity in more efficiently allocating resources, such as providing more exercise programmes in neighbourhoods that may currently have poorer health outcomes than others.


The charity is also planning to run osteoporosis prevention screenings for bone health, and supporting the elderly in living active lives.  


Monitoring eye conditions


Beyond predicting risk factors, AI will also be critical in monitoring their chronic conditions, such as cataracts, a common condition amongst the elderly, highlights Dr David Chen Ziyou, Associate Consultant, Department of Ophthalmology, National University Hospital to GovInsider.      


Currently, specialised eye care is only available in hospitals, and patients who wish to get their eyes checked may have to wait for a long time to get appointments, says Dr Chen. AI can help make eye care more accessible and help to screen patients early. 

Dr David Chen, Associate Consultant, Department of Ophthalmology, National University Hospital Image: National University Health System

Dr Chen is working with DXC on a mobile app that can capture and analyse images of the human eye. Coupled with image recognition technology, the app’s AI will be able to guide the user in capturing quality images in real time. For instance, the app may guide the user in moving the phone higher or lower to get a better shot. 


In the backend, the NUH ophthalmology department’s AI will help to determine whether the patient is at risk of a cataract, and recommend a doctor’s appointment if needed. This will allow prospective patients to become more self-aware of their health risks from the comfort of their own homes, with their own devices, says Dr Chen.


As this app will blend screening, diagnosis, and monitoring, it will also ease the monitoring load for patients with stable conditions. Rather than traveling to the doctor regularly, stable patients can monitor themselves regularly, easing clinic congestion and reducing healthcare costs. In turn, this frees up doctors’ time so that they can attend to high-risk patients more quickly.


 There are plans to integrate this app with NUH’s internal medical records system so the hospital is alerted if a patient is displaying an increased risk of cataract, says Dr Chen. 


This app is still in its research phase, pending regulatory approval, says Dr Chen, and we can expect to see this by the second half of the 2020s. Dr Chen hopes to bring ophthalmology monitoring tools to the community through working with SATA CommHealth’s network of clinics and volunteers. 


“The DXC Innovation Lab in Singapore has been partnering with healthcare industry leaders to build AI-based projects over the years. 


Artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionise the healthcare industry and its applications by improving patient outcomes, streamlining complex triaging workflows, reducing errors of early detection of diseases or chronic diseases and overall healthcare costs, as well as enabling more personalised and proactive care. 


With AI and data aggregation strategies, healthcare providers can analyse vast amounts of data and extract insights that can help inform treatment decisions, predict disease outbreaks and improve population health,” says Akshay Saigal, Head of DXC Technology’s Digital Innovation Lab in Singapore.

This article was sponsored by DXC Technology.