Why It Matters

Embracing tech in healthcare

President Tony Tan Keng Yam checking out Nico, a robot that can extract data such as blood pressure or temperature from wearable devices on patients and send the data to a doctor’s computer, at the Centre for Healthcare Assistive and Robotics Techn
President Tony Tan Keng Yam checking out Nico, a robot that can extract data such as blood pressure or temperature from wearable devices on patients and send the data to a doctor’s computer, at the Centre for Healthcare Assistive and Robotics Technology (CHART) during the opening of the new Integrated Building at Changi General Hospital on July 23, 2015. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
PHOTO: ST FILE

Hospitals are increasingly turning to robots and assistive technology to ease their manpower crunch. To speed up the process, Changi General Hospital has set up a Centre for Healthcare

Assistive and Robotics Technology to hothouse such research.

Now, healthcare has always been seen as a "high-touch" rather than a high-tech sector. So getting robots to take over some of the work in a hospital is not intuitive.

But this makes sense, given Singapore's rapidly ageing population, which will lead to exponential growth in demand for healthcare services even as the workforce shrinks, making it harder to get enough healthcare workers. Besides, healthcare workers are also ageing, making it difficult for them to cope with manually taxing jobs. Unless something is done, and soon, Singapore could well face the woes the British face today with their National Health Service - great care but it could take months, even years, before you get it.

By then, it could be too late.

While robots, of course, cannot replace humans, they can help the human carer take care of many more patients at the same time, and even provide a better level of care. For example, one therapist is currently needed to help a patient at a time, to do exercises such as arm coordination. With technology, one therapist can work with several patients at the same time, as the therapist will be alerted when intervention is needed.

Devices such as a blood-sensitive bandage can free nurses from having to check a patient every 15 minutes for the first six hours, to see if he is bleeding. Technology can help even doctors, as it alerts them, say, when they prescribe something a patient is allergic to.

The use of robots and assistive technology does not mean that healthcare will get cheaper. But, hopefully, it will mean that healthcare services will remain available to every Singaporean who needs it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2015, with the headline 'Embracing tech in healthcare'. Print Edition | Subscribe