Chatbots show the way in using tech to boost healthcare

Twenty innovative technologies that may help to improve the health sector and enhance patient care were showcased at the National Health IT Summit yesterday. Madhumita Paramanantham reports.


Patients who are unwell could, in the future, be chatting with software that can assess their conditions and advise them to visit the right hospital or clinic.

Such chatbots, which require patients to type in basic information such as their symptoms and medical history, can even prioritise seriously ill patients and cut their waiting times at hospitals.

By the end of this year, a list of chatbot technology providers will be made available to healthcare professionals, Singapore's health-tech agency Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS) said yesterday.

Both parties could work together to develop the chatbot, which can then be rolled out to public healthcare institutions, IHiS added.

The agency said that such technology will allow healthcare providers to attend to patients who need care the most.

IHiS announced this during the 10th edition of the annual National Health IT Summit yesterday.

About 800 guests from the healthcare and technology sectors attended the summit at the Singapore Expo, organised by IHiS.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong kicked off the day-long event with a speech on technologies in healthcare, noting that while "some are making current healthcare models better and more efficient, others have the potential to revolutionise how we receive care services to live more healthily".

He cited telemedicine and artificial intelligence as some of the other technologies adapted by the healthcare sector, and commended the use of smartphone apps and step-trackers in the annual National Steps Challenge.

The challenge, which encourages Singaporeans to walk more and track their daily number of steps, has attracted over 670,000 participants in its current season, almost double that of the previous one.

Mr Gan also emphasised the need to transform the very core of the healthcare system instead of just tacking on technologies to current healthcare services and solutions.

He added: "While digitisation and automation of existing processes bring benefits, true transformation and quantum leaps can only happen when we go deeper to redesign processes and reinvent delivery models and concepts, with technology as an enabler."

Mr Gan also noted that the Government could use technology more effectively in healthcare, suggesting that one way to do this was for the public and private sectors to work more together.

One such research project to be developed over three years is a collaboration led by the Ministry of Health in the field of robotics.

Called the Robotics Middleware Framework for Healthcare, it will let various complex healthcare technology systems talk and work with one another, reducing the workload of healthcare professionals, said Mr Gan.

More details about the initiative will be released later this year.

The National HealthTech Challenge, a new platform launched to bring healthcare, research, technology and education professionals together, also featured for the first time at the summit.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2018, with the headline Chatbots show the way in using tech to boost healthcare. Subscribe