Projects to future-proof healthcare highlighted at SGH annual scientific meet

Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary (right) looking at a 3D-printed educational aid at SGH's 3D printing centre. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - A mobile app that can "listen" to abnormal urinary flow to help doctors detect health issues and a predictive model that is being used to forecast the patient load at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) emergency department are among the research projects that have been submitted for this year's SGH Annual Scientific Meeting awards.

These projects are aimed at strengthening the healthcare system against future shocks in a rapidly ageing Singapore, in line with the theme of the two-day meeting which started Friday.

The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that more people are getting comfortable with using technology to access healthcare, a push towards greater digitalisation that will only continue, said SGH's medical board chairman, Associate Professor Ruban Poopalalingam, in his opening address.

It places less burden on in-person healthcare services, giving healthcare professionals the time to focus on vulnerable patients or those who cannot use technology, he said.

Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary, who was guest of honour at the event, said the Government shifted to an "empowering participatory relationship" with patients during the pandemic after it realised that most infected people will recover in community facilities and at home.

"Our language changed, our mindset changed and the way in which we engage people with these issues changed," he added.

Technology such as Covid-19 virtual wards, a home-recovery scheme that has been extended to non-Covid-19 patients, is helping to shift the physical healthcare setting away from institution-based care, he said.

In the Covid-19 virtual wards, patients recovering at home measured their own vital signs under supervision and were monitored through teleconsultations.

On Friday, the SGH doctors behind the mobile app that can "listen" to the sound of urine flow said they wanted to create an app that would help shorten queues at clinics.

Patients with decreased flow or other issues, which could signal problems such as an enlarged prostate, would be able to use the app at home to record the sound of their urination.

Researchers are using a deep learning algorithm that can measure the flow rate to detect health issues associated with abnormal urinary flows, said consultant urologist Edwin Jonathan Aslim.

Currently, patients have to pee into a standard uroflowmetry machine at a clinic.

"In the clinic, we always struggle with the flow, the patients may pass a small amount, and have to wait till two hours later to produce enough volume of urine," said senior consultant urologist Ng Lay Guat.

Audioflow is being developed by SGH and the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Researchers hope to test it at polyclinics in about six months' time, said Dr Aslim.

In another project, SGH's 10-year-old data science team, started by Professor Marcus Ong, a senior consultant in emergency medicine, developed a predictive model that used pandemic emergency department patient load data to allow it to better forecast attendances and lengths of stay at the department.

The model can predict patient loads up to one or two weeks in advance.

Sudden surges in loads, a typical characteristic of pandemics, make it hard for hospitals to plan for manpower and beds.

But this model will enable SGH to better deal with the next pandemic.

"The aim is to have the ability to deal with future surges," said Prof Ong.

Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak, who spoke on Friday, said that as Singapore moves towards preventive care with the Healthier SG strategy, acute care specialists remain important.

"Hospitals may now focus on the more acute and complex care, leaving the simple and more stable chronic cases to be cared for by family physicians. And in doing so we will prioritise specialist resources and services more effectively to those who do need them most," he added.

Hospitals will also continue to provide training, oversight and clinical governance in the community space, he said.

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