SINGAPORE - Patients being cared for at home could, in future, have robots help to care for them.
Such robotic aid will start in hospitals, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday (May 30).
The ministry is developing prototypes "of smart wards integrated with smart logistics for what we hope will be hospitals of the future", he told the audience at the National Health IT Summit held at the Singapore Expo. Some 600 people attended the conference.
He added: "In line with the shift beyond hospitals to the community, we will also look into robotics-assisted home care."
Singapore embarked on its Health IT Master Plan in 2014, and much has already been put in place, such as the National Electronic Health Records (NEHR) of patients that is currently accessible at all public institutions, and will eventually be rolled out to include data from the private sector.
Other IT innovations include automated pharmacy systems that pack medicines with fewer errors than if done by humans, and telerehab where patients are monitored remotely.
Mr Gan wants to use IT to change the landscape of the healthcare sector by harnessing technology in innovative and effective ways.
He said: "Disruption can sometimes be painful. The workforce will have to adapt to new ways to carrying out their jobs.
"But if the disruptions have the potential to bring about meaningful benefits to patients and their families, and to our healthcare system, we must not be afraid to allow them to take place."
Later this year, the Vital Signs Monitoring (VSM) platform will be launched to bring care beyond the healthcare institution to the community and the home.
He said the system will enable the remote monitoring of vital signs such as the blood pressure, blood glucose, or weight of patients with conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart or pulmonary diseases.
"Patients can in turn receive more timely advice and intervention to manage their conditions without having to schedule an appointment to visit the hospital," he explained.
He expects the system to "enable more regular monitoring, improve patient management and reduce hospital visits and readmissions".
Another advantage of IT is the large amount of data available, allowing doctors to identify better or more cost effective treatments.
The National University Health System did just that. It identified cost-effective clinical practices, reduced unnecessary variations and improved both cost and clinical outcomes.
One example is total knee replacements where it was able to reduce the number of patients requiring blood transfusion from 26 per cent to 3 per cent, resulting is savings of $955 per case with no drop in the quality of care.
The Health IT Master Plan, which has charted the course until 2021, should result in cheaper, better and faster healthcare for all.
Mr Gan said that by going digital intelligently, using data effectively and disrupting meaningfully, IT will support the three shifts in healthcare focus the ministry has announced.
The three healthcare shifts are going beyond healthcare to health, beyond the hospital to the community and beyond quality to value.