Collaborative technologies strengthen Singapore’s primary care systems
By Yogesh Hirdaramani
As Singapore’s healthcare strategy moves towards a preventive approach, collaborative healthtech tools are steadily strengthening primary care. Eugene Neo, Assistant Director of Future Primary Care at the Ministry of Health’s Office for Healthcare Transformation highlights some of these technologies already at play.
Simple tools like vital signs monitoring systems are already helping patients with chronic conditions self-manage at home. Image: Canva
Last month, Singapore’s Open Government Products (OGP), the government’s experimental tech development arm, ran a series of workshops, the HealthTech sprint, for health agencies to better understand the ready-to-market products that the team has to offer.
Seventeen participants across healthcare agencies such as the Ministry of Health’s Office for Healthcare Transformation (MOHT) and the Agency for Integrated Care had the opportunity to participate in hands-on workshops, break down problem statements and design new workflows, said Stephanie Siow, Partnerships Specialist at OGP to GovInsider.
According to Siow, participants learned about OGP tools that would be directly relevant to the healthcare sector, such as mass messaging tool Postman, rapid website builder Isomer, and form building tool FormSG. The programme also highlighted features of these tools that users may not have been familiar with, such as FormSG’s authentication features.
Siow said: “There was a strong feeling of excitement in the air – and there continues to be strong momentum in our team and across our healthcare partners to digitise processes in healthcare and design good workflows and tech products for citizens.” The experimental tech arm has also been piloting a health appointment system with general practitioners (GPs) to increase the uptake of adult vaccinations since August, reported GovInsider previously.
“The sprint also allowed an opportunity to build effective solutions by familiarising us with available tools,” shares Eugene Neo, Assistant Director of Future Primary Care at MOHT with GovInsider.
In a public LinkedIn post, Neo said that the MOHT team used OGP tools to develop and present use cases “covering a wide spectrum including content management, clinical support tools and web analytics”. In a separate post, he added that the tools “cut through all the complexities and allow us to focus on things that matter the most – solving problems and creating solutions.”
GovInsider sat down with Neo to understand how simple-to-use tech tools are already strengthening Singapore’s primary care systems, from tools supporting home-based care to GP-led programmes.
Supporting home-based care
Well-curated tools can support family doctors to co-manage existing conditions and empower fit residents to take charge of their health in the community and at home, says Neo. Tools such as tele-monitoring and tele-consultation can allow doctors to tailor health plans to better suit residents’ needs, he explains.
Simple-to-use technologies have been supporting patients with chronic conditions in managing their conditions while receiving regular feedback to reinforce positive changes, says Neo.
Through the Primary Tech-Enhanced Care (PTEC) programme, eligible patients with hypertension have been submitting their blood pressure readings via a mobile application, Health Discovery+, which was developed by the country’s Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS).
The application alerts clinicians if a resident’s readings display abnormalities, and encourages them if they have been able to lower their blood pressure readings, said Neo.
The programme may soon be deployed to support patients in managing other chronic diseases that benefit from a high frequency of monitoring. Neo shares that the agencies are looking at the management of Diabetes Mellitus as the next condition, after the programme’s initial scaling concludes in early 2023.
The project commenced with a year-long pilot at Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic, before MOHT, IHiS, and Singapore’s healthcare clusters announced the programme’s progressive scaling across Singapore in 2020.
As a result of the pilot programme, IHiS’ telehealth team decided to adopt an off-the-shelf vital sign monitoring system. This system was then integrated with a patient chatbot and a clinician dashboard developed during the pilot, so that patients had an intuitive and easy-to-use solution to monitor their vital signs and transmit these measurements to the polyclinics.
This also points to the importance of a strong IT foundation and seamless data sharing.
“Tightly knitted information exchange about the resident will be an important pillar for family doctors to effectively deliver their care to their residents. Targeted deployment of IT capabilities… will enable much better use of the clinicians’ time,” says Neo.
By mid-2023, Singapore will begin leveraging the country’s existing network of GPs to drive stronger health outcomes on a nationwide scale. The country recently announced a nationwide healthcare transformation strategy, Healthier SG, to focus on sustained preventive care, with family physicians working more closely with residents than before.
Fundamental to a resident’s care journey is the “mutual trust and empathy between residents and their family doctor,” says Neo.
As residents begin to view doctors as their partners in managing their health, clinicians will begin to view patients holistically, he explains. This means viewing them beyond their conditions, taking into account each residents’ unique needs and circumstances, and tailoring care plans that suit each patient.
“It allows for a more open discussion on the different possibilities in the management of the residents’ health – from preventative health in keeping up to date with recommended vaccinations to adopting new management methods for their existing conditions,” Neo highlights.
This is why MOHT embarked on the General Practitioner Innovation initiative in 2020. The initiative supports GPs in generating projects to test and validate innovative technologies as well as redesign care and processes.
One of the winning projects of the initiative was the Chronic Care Transformation in Primary Care Networks (CCT-PCN) programme proposed by Frontier Healthcare Holdings, which operates 11 GP clinics.
One of the programme’s aims is to establish a shared IT system for primary and community care partners to support patients in managing their chronic conditions together. These collaborations will help GPs to better connect to community resources and enable them to refer patients to activities such as social walking groups to improve overall well-being, says Neo. The project is expected to conclude in 2023.
Beyond tech-enhanced programmes to support patients with chronic care, MOHT is also running a home hospitalisation programme, partnering with private healthtech providers, and using automation to smoothen workflows, GovInsider reported previously.
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