Coronavirus: Tech to help workers in dorms monitor their health

Access to telemedicine, devices to check blood oxygen levels among measures

MHC Asia Group medical director Raymond Ong (centre right) explaining the tele-kiosk to Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo at the JTC Space @ Tuas on May 10, 2020. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

With the management of foreign workers in dormitories entering the recovery phase, the workers are being given help to monitor their health through telemedicine and a gadget that checks blood oxygen levels.

About 8,000 pulse oximeters have been distributed so far and a further 12,000 will be given out, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday.

The devices monitor a person's blood oxygen level and can help detect early signs of a deterioration in health.

Monitoring is seen as the next step in containing the virus, which has predominantly affected foreign workers.

"Now, having stabilised the situation as well as strengthened the medical support, we now need to plan for the next phase," said Mrs Teo.

The idea is to help workers make a full recovery and resume work safely to get the economy back on track. It is the third phase of the strategy that Singapore has rolled out to deal with migrant workers who have accounted for most of the Covid-19 cases here.

The first phase involved safe distancing measures in dorms and relocating essential services workers, while the second phase involved putting a medical support plan in place. About 40,000 medical consultations involving foreign workers took place last month through this plan.

Migrant workers continued to account for a majority of the 876 new cases reported yesterday, which brought the total count in Singapore to 23,336. The focus is now on the third phase.

"A very important aspect of this recovery phase will be how to strengthen the health monitoring and the health surveillance in our dormitories in particular," said Mrs Teo, who was speaking during a visit to JTC Space @ Tuas, where a carpark that has been converted into a medical post for foreign workers will be operational from today.

A medical post has doctors and other staff on duty to address the healthcare needs of foreign workers who have acute respiratory infection symptoms such as fever and cough.

"We are introducing new measures that will help us... do the health surveillance... in a more comprehensive way," said Mrs Teo.

"We hope that by doing so, we will be able to help the individual worker prevent a recurrence if he has already been infected, or for those who have not been infected, to prevent them from falling sick in the first place."

The monitoring process includes teleconsultation services available to workers in dormitories through their mobile phones. They can fill in an online form and a doctor will video call them back in two hours. Around 400 such consultations have been conducted since April 25.

The doctors are from the nine private healthcare providers under the Ministry of Health's regulatory sandbox.

Teleconsultation services will be available even when on-site medical facilities or external Public Health Preparedness Clinics are closed for the day.

Singapore has also been focusing on beefing up medical facilities for migrant workers so that the healthcare system does not get overwhelmed.

The JTC Space @ Tuas medical post is the fifth of its kind, and between them they can cater to around 75,000 foreign workers in factory-converted dorms and temporary on-site quarters.

All 43 purpose-built dorms have their own medical facilities to cater to 200,000 workers.

There are also eight telekiosks in dorms, with more to come to ensure round-the-clock access to a doctor. "We don't want the workers to wait until they are so unwell to seek medical attention," said Mrs Teo.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Tech to help workers in dorms monitor their health. Subscribe