Marcus Ong

On a data-driven mission to support health system

Professor Marcus Ong tapped data science and simulation modelling to help cushion the impact of Covid-19 on the health system. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Professor Marcus Ong tapped data science and simulation modelling to help cushion the impact of Covid-19 on the health system. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

At the onset of the pandemic, Professor Marcus Ong realised that the unprecedented outbreak would not just impact infected patients and front-line healthcare workers.

The virus could also put the whole healthcare system, hospitals and all patients under pressure, either directly or indirectly.

To help cushion the impact of the relatively unknown virus on the healthcare system, Prof Ong - senior consultant at Singapore General Hospital's Department of Emergency Medicine - turned to his research interests in data science and simulation modelling.

Said Prof Ong: "We saw an urgent need to use data to support our health system's response to Covid-19, in order to protect our patients and our healthcare system."

He is speaking from experience, having lost some of his friends and colleagues to the severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003.

"We realised how important a comprehensive, whole-system response was in order to protect the health system from being overwhelmed and to save lives."

Since February, his team has been building computer simulation models based on the pandemic to improve healthcare policies in areas such as resource allocation and business disruptions.

"The virtual outbreak model can be further developed to address different disease outbreak scenarios in the future, and will also enhance our national response to future epidemics," said Prof Ong.

A recent study published by his team found that Covid-19 medical literature written in the early days of the outbreak was focused mainly on clinical elements and diagnosis.

Big-picture issues such as the outbreak's effect on the mental health of healthcare workers and how it affected the care of non-Covid-19 patients, as well as the use of novel technologies, were initially under-explored.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2020, with the headline 'On a data-driven mission to support health system'. Subscribe