New Healthcare Academy to train hospital workers at risk of losing jobs to technology

(From left) Senior Patient Service Associate, Woon Shi Mei, Toh Bee Lay and Senior Nurse Manager, Ho Kim Hong show NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng the procedures on how they draw blood.
(From left) Senior Patient Service Associate, Woon Shi Mei, Toh Bee Lay and Senior Nurse Manager, Ho Kim Hong show NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng the procedures on how they draw blood.ST PHOTO: MATTHIAS CHONG

SINGAPORE - In the next three to five years, when medical records in Singapore are expected to be fully digitised, the 600 public healthcare workers who manage this paperwork could find that their jobs have become obsolete.

Similarly, the 4,000 patient service associates in the local public healthcare workforce, who handle patient registration and payments, may find their roles being taken over by self-registration machines and payment kiosks.

Before such workers find themselves displaced by technology, NTUC and the Healthcare Services Employees' Union (HSEU) are setting up a Healthcare Academy to ensure they can adapt and remain employable.

The courses will be held at the NTUC LearningHub at NTUC Trade Union House in Bras Basah.

This is the largest training initiative to be launched in Singapore's healthcare sector.

Speaking to the media at the launch of the academy on Monday (Aug 27), NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng said it will look at training workers to take on new roles that are being created in the growing healthcare sector, which the Health Ministry has said will need 9,000 more workers by 2020.

"It will provide useful training for our workers. In each profession they can add value to the patient... which increases their productivity, so that the hospital can reward them better with longer careers, expanded career paths and better wages, welfare and work prospects," he said.

As each worker's productivity rises, hospitals will also be better able to do more with the same amount of manpower, he added.

For a start, the academy will offer three courses. Two are on mindset change and one on how to embrace and adapt to a digital workplace.

Over the next six months, NTUC and the HSEU will work with hospitals and their employees to understand their potential challenges, refine the curriculum and launch more courses, Mr Ng said.

Labour unionist K. Thanaletchimi said the academy has chosen to focus on mindset change and digital literacy for its first set of courses because a sizeable proportion - about one-third - of the medical record officers and patient service assistants who will be affected by technological disruption are middle-aged and older.

"We need to have such programmes for them so they can proceed without fear. There is a fear among some workers that technology will take away their jobs, or that they won't know how to use new technology."

She added: "But this is a work in progress and there will be a second and third phase where we will roll out courses on deep skills such as therapy assistance."

The courses will also be geared towards training workers for roles such as community nursing and case management, as the need for such skills is increasing with the growing demand for healthcare services in Singapore, she noted.

Course contents will also be constantly tweaked to ensure they remain relevant with the times, she added.

The launch of the academy was held at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, which has been training its workers to take on expanded job scopes for the past several years.

One of them, Ms Toh Bee Lay, 41, has been a patient service associate for the past six years. This involved registering patients and handling payments at a hospital counter.

A few years ago she was trainedto draw blood from patients for diagnostic laboratory tests.

"I find my job more meaningful now as I get to talk to the patients more. I also feel more secure about my future," she said.

"If I get the opportunity I would like to pick up more skills, such as conducting an ECG," she added, referring to an electrocardiogram, which records a patient's heart activity.