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Rajavithi Hospital in Bangkok has introduced a high-tech surgical robot to assist medical teams with a promise of better accuracy, and a safer and shorter hospital stay for patients.

Under the name of da Vinci Xi, the US-made surgical robotic technology is designed to assist surgeons’ accuracy during urologic surgical procedures. Highly magnified 3D HD technology allows surgeons to see a surgical site with improved depth perception and clear vision.

Meanwhile, the instruments bend and rotate for beyond the abilities of the human hand. With high motion technologies, the robot allows surgeons to operate with a steadier motion than is humanly possible, the company says.

The head of the hospital’s committee overseeing the surgical robotic system said da Vinci Xi is the most advanced technology in the country and is providing satisfying results.

Patients are happy with the operation done by the robot due to less pronounced wounds after operations. The robot’s technique helps patients recover quickly, reducing their hospital stay. That, in turn, frees up beds for patients, he said.

It was noted that the robotic arms are developed to be close to people’s hands, in terms of movement. “But the good point is that they can go deeper to small points [of the body] that need operating on without any limitations,” he added.

The hospital has launched 11 new operating theatres, including one room for the surgical robot. A surgeon requires at least 30 hours to be trained on how to use the robot, before performing an operation on a patient.

Many patients with cancer and complex diseases have already been operated on by the robot. The hospital says 85% of operations by the robot are related to diseases found in the throat, ears and nose, 11% for gynaecology, and 2% for prostate and kidney cancer.

There are eight surgical robots in the country at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, Siriraj Hospital and Ramathibodi Hospital. It is estimated that 5,270 surgical robots are currently working around the world.

The Chief of the Department of Medical Services stated that the hospital has over 6,000 walk-in patients per day and the number is expected to increase. The robot will play a significant role in treating patients who need complicated operations.

Robots are not only time-saving but also provide safety to patients by reducing direct contact between patients and medical teams, he said.

According to recent research, the market for surgical robots is expected to grow from US$6.7 billion in 2020 to US$11.8 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 12.1% during the forecast period. Growth in the surgical robots’ market can be attributed to factors such as technological advancements, advantages of robotic-assisted surgery, increasing adoption of surgical robots by hospitals & ambulatory surgery centres and increased funding for medical robot research.

Based on product and service, the global market is segmented into robotic systems, instruments, and accessories and services. The instruments and accessories segment commanded the largest share of the market in 2019. The large share and high growth rate of this segment are mainly driven by the recurrent purchase of instruments & accessories as opposed to robotic systems, which are a one-time investment.

Based on the application, the market is segmented into general surgery, urological surgery, gynaecological surgery, orthopaedic surgery, neurosurgery, and other applications. The general surgery segment is expected to grow at the highest rate during the forecast period.

Growth in this market segment can be attributed to the increased use of surgical robots in general procedures such as bariatric surgery, Heller myotomy, gastrectomy, hernia repair, cholecystectomy, transoral surgery, and pancreatectomy.

Based on end-user, the market is segmented into hospitals and ambulatory surgery centres. The demand for surgical robots in hospitals is primarily driven by the increasing focus on carrying out surgeries with better precision and ensuring more comfort for surgeons.

Is happiness quantifiable? This is an age-old question that ancient philosophers have tried to answer. Even the meaning of happiness and motivation eludes an exact definition. For utilitarians, happiness is, in its rudimentary sense, the absence of pain and the existence of pleasure. For Aristotle, happiness is the highest good and is closely equated with virtue and purpose, a concept which he referred to as eudaimonia or an activity expressing virtue. 

There is still no single meaning of happiness, more so now that the global economy is struggling to adapt to changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the realm of business, most companies are sustaining their momentum in digital transformation. They are scaling up their operational blueprints and adapting to the new normal of implementing remote workstations. 

They visualise investments in technology and infrastructure to level up their game. However, many of these organisations delay investing in one key area of the workforce – the mental wellness of their employees, their level of happiness. 

An Oxford study shows that a happy worker is 13% more productive. This increased productivity does not just benefit employees; it spills over to company profits and return of investments. Hence, the well-being of employees is equally important as other areas in business operations. 

Sanjeev Magotra: a contextual approach to manage stress and be more productive in the new normal

This is the same sentiment that Joye Founder and CEO Sanjeev Magotra lays on the table. Leveraging this perception, he found an innovative method to use artificial intelligence in tapping into the mental well-being of employees. 

During an exclusive interview with OpenGov Asia, Sanjeev discussed that they have launched an AI-powered digital service to help map out employees’ level of satisfaction, as well as their emotional and mental state. 

Joye was created alongside the company’s vision to attain what Sanjeev referred to as the “10,000-step mental health habit” which is equivalent to taking care of one’s self physically. Joye’s AI is trained to recognise users’ unique situations with extreme privacy, and it will guide you to the right care at the right time.  

Joye incorporates a ‘10,000-step mental habit’ to encourage employees to re-assess and take care of their mental well-being

These suggestions include mood analytics and contextual behaviour tips, podcasts and mindfulness audios. This service tries to understand employees’ feelings through contextual nudges and uses data gathered from these interactions to formulate a plan that would help employees address their life stresses. It also allows them to keep track of their emotional and mental well-being on a daily or weekly basis. 

Sanjeev further explained, “Our vision is that when you finish your video conference, and there’s a lot of stress in that video conference, we’ll pop up the Joye button to help you as opposed to staying stressed and becoming unproductive. We’ll help you immediately express yourself, self-reassess yourself and we will give you behavioural nudges to help you immediately turn positive.” 

The idea behind the Joye application is not new. Sanjeev said that employers have long realised the importance of investing in employees. Employees have also formulated their routines in keeping themselves emotionally predisposed to life and workplace stresses by hanging onto their support systems and social networks.  

What sets apart the Joye application is three-fold. At the outset, Joye is the first company to integrate a voice-enabled interface where individuals can express their feelings. This is in contrast to other apps that rely heavily on chatbots and not on systems that use voice responses. 

The Joye application is a contextual-based tool that maps out a re-assessment plan for individuals based on their interactions with the app

It is also the first firm to insert this type of programme into a company’s existing mental health and employee engagement apps. Sanjeev said that they are looking at enhancing this feature of the Joye app by embedding it in enterprises’ video conferencing programmes especially during the new normal. 

The more important distinction is that while most health platforms bank on mindfulness content or digital therapy and counselling, the Joye app employs a contextual behavioural nudge approach. Sanjeev stressed that “you say what is happening to you and we will tell you what you should do. We try to find out what is happening in your mind and what you should do at that point in time.” 

He was quick to add that the Joye application puts a premium on privacy. Although it uses digital methods to gather and analyse employee data, there is still a cloak of anonymity that keeps these data private. 

Sanjeev added, “Privacy is an important element of our design. We anonymise the data of the employee immediately after the session is finished, but we will keep the analytics so that the employee can see these data from time to time and that is a good way for the employee to manage their fitness over a period of time.” 

Additional challenges during the new normal

The new normal is shaping the way many enterprises work, including looking for innovative ways to run their business workstations. Sanjeev emphasised that remote work opens up additional challenges that piles on top of existing stresses an individual is experiencing. This is where the magic of Joye comes in. 

He also mentioned that the mind is the trigger of all actions and behaviour. The scenario is more amplified when working in a remote environment, as there are lots of new stresses and isolation working in the minds of the employees. This, he said, becomes an additional challenge to address. 

The Joye application tries to nip future issues in the bud by addressing them at a time when they are small and inconsequential before they balloon into bigger problems that are harder to address. 

As the world continues to trudge on during the new normal, some enterprises are adamant in investing in employee support technology like Joye, as they put more value on digital tools that can help streamline their operations. Sanjeev dispelled this notion by saying that investing in employee productivity does wonders to improve profits. 

The Founder of Joye explained that: “if we invest in something like this, first of all, it’s a necessity in the remote working environment. Second, this investment has a very good return on investment in terms of improved productivity for the enterprise.” 

Sanjeev concluded the discussion by leaving food for thought to employers. He reiterated that ultimately, employees’ mental health and well-being are crucial, more now as enterprises embrace a new remote working environment. To ensure that employees’ well-being is prioritised, Joye offers a quality solution. What differentiates it from other apps is that it helps the whole employee population and not just a small number of employees who are in most need of support. Their tool, he added, is for all 100% of employees who experience stress and anxiety daily and this can be overcome by engaging the workforce through a platform like Joye. 

A Hong Kong Baptist University-led (HKBU) research team has launched an online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programme called “EASE Online” to help people with a social anxiety disorder (SAD). It incorporates virtual reality (VR) scenarios that are common triggers for social anxiety, allowing participants to respond as they would to real-life situations and receive counselling services from mental health professionals.

The programme is recruiting 600 participants aged 18 to 70 with a social anxiety disorder. It will also provide training to around 100 local mental health professionals on how to operate the programme, to serve more people in need in the long run.

Blended mode of counselling to treat social anxiety disorder

People with social anxiety disorder are characterised by excessive fear and anxiety which are disproportionate to the social situations they encounter, such as meeting someone new, eating or even making phone calls in public. This overwhelming fear can keep them away from social contact and prevent them from seeking counselling services.

Dr Pan Jiayan, Associate Professor of the Department of Social Work at HKBU, who led a team comprising investigators from the Department of Social Work and the Department of Computer Science at HKBU, has developed a 13-week programme called “EASE Online” to help them cope with social anxiety and improve their quality of life with CBT. CBT is goal-oriented psychotherapy that helps people cope with life challenges by adjusting their patterns of thinking or behaviour.

Having started in 2020, the four-year EASE Online programme will run until 2023. It adopts a blended mode of service delivery including both online and offline counselling. The online service comprises nine weekly online modules delivered on the programme website or mobile app. The online modules include a briefing on CBT skills, case demonstration videos, exercises and feedback, a forum and self-assessment.

Integration of VR exposure therapy

The counsellor will provide three face-to-face sessions plus two telephone follow-ups to supplement the online service and review the service progress. VR exposure therapy will be adopted in two out of the three face-to-face sessions. The research team designed five VR environments that reflect real-life scenarios, such as giving a presentation and attending a job interview, for participants to experience the anxiety and fear associated with such settings.

These scenarios are designed by the research team and delivered in Cantonese. They are adapted and produced from local cases to fit the language and cultural context of Hong Kong.

Therapist-guided VR exposure therapy is an intermediate treatment step for SAD clients that exposes them to real-life social situations. A trained counsellor will guide participants in person throughout the exposure process and provide a debriefing for them on a variety of strategies as well as advice on how to tackle social anxiety.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the programme, participants need to fill in an online questionnaire upon completion of the programme, and at three- and six-month follow-ups, respectively.

Novel alternative tackles social anxiety

“Social anxiety disorder sufferers feel more than just shy or nervous in certain social circumstances. Their difficulty in building up good social and interpersonal relationships brings them unspeakable pain,” said Dr Pan.

Online counselling and VR exposure therapy create a safe and non-threatening environment for people with social anxiety to learn how to cope with fearful social situations. It is especially suitable for those who do not want to be stigmatised by society or cannot afford traditional face-to-face counselling services. The team hopes that the EASE Online programme will bring SAD sufferers’ social life back on track, Dr Pan added.

The programme is supported by a grant of more than HK$6 million from the Research Impact Fund of the University Grants Committee and HKBU. Besides investigators from HKBU, the EASE Online programme team also includes researchers from the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University, and the programme has also partnered with the Richmond Fellowship of Hong Kong and the Caritas Wellness Link – Tsuen Wan.

Singapore’s smart nation initiative was launched with the vision of better living, stronger communities and the creation of more opportunities for all. A technology-driven, up-to-date healthcare system with the capability to ensure the wellbeing of all its citizens is a pre-requisite to support this powerful mission. Such healthcare infrastructure takes on added relevance and urgency in the light of the current global crisis.

To better understand how the government of Singapore is utilising technology to realise this vision of better living and a stronger community for the nation, OpenGov Asia had an in-depth conversation with Sutowo Wong, Director, Analytics and Information Management Division, Ministry of Health.

Sutowo confirmed that technology and innovation in healthcare procedure and processes support MOH’s strategic shift from Healthcare to Health. Wearable technology, healthcare mobile applications, digitising in-person transactions like payments and on-line registrations are all technology use cases that help the government track and ensure the good health of its citizens.

It was fascinating to know how technology has enabled supporting senior citizens through user-friendly apps like the Moments of Life App (a smart nation and Digital Government office initiative) and has taken healthcare beyond the hospital walls into homes and community of patients using TeleHealth.

Sutowo acknowledged that the Singapore healthcare sector harnesses innovative technologies like Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in various health care applications and models. AI and ML-driven solutions are, in fact, the key to many of their initiatives and strategies.

  1. No-Show Predictive Model: Using ML, this model identifies patients who are potential no-shows. This allows administrators to send them reminders or to allocate their slot to another patient. The solution optimises clinic resources as well as maximise available time.
  2. Multiple Readmission Predictive Model: This model analyses data to create a list of high-risk patients for care teams to focus on. Patients within the elevated risk category are automatically identified for enrolment into intervention programs eliminating up to 90% of nurses’ manual assessment workload, freeing them up to spend more time in taking direct care of patients.
  3. Singapore Eye Lesion Analyser Plus (SELENA+): Based on a deep learning, artificial intelligence software system, the solution can detect three major eye conditions by highlighting areas with potential vision-threatening eye diseases. This technology has proven to be highly efficient in delivering fast and accurate results.
  4. National University Health System (NUHS) Automated Diagnosis Engine: The engine helps diagnose appendicitis using clinical notes.The objective of this work is to develop an automated diagnosis system that can predict the probability of appendicitis given a free-text emergency department note and additional structures information(e.g. lab test results). The model can learn important features, and symptoms of patients from unstructured free text notes from doctors helping to make better diagnosis.

It was interesting to learn that the Ministry of Health follows a 2-pronged approach to better respond to rapid changes in the technological landscape.

The first prong is a top-down approach through the National AI Strategy, which maps out how Singapore will develop and use AI to transform the economy and improve people’s lives. AI can also be used to analyse clinical and genomic data, medical images, and health behaviours to better assess the risk profile of patients.

Second is the bottom-up approach which comprises initiatives like AI in Health Grand Challenge. Such programmes and initiatives encourage the development of innovative approaches that use AI to enhance primary care and disease management in Singapore and the world. It supports groundbreaking research ideas that adopt AI technologies and innovations to address current challenges in the medical field.

Speaking about the future for robotic doctors /nurses for treatment and surgeries and the current proximity to achieving this, Sutowo shared that “with the declining old-age support ratio coupled with low birth rates, it is imperative that healthcare is made more proactive to guide people to take pre-emptive steps to keep themselves healthy or to better manage their well-being”.

Leveraging assistive technology and robotics in healthcare is one way of doing it. Explaining further, he shared the example of RoboCoach Xian. A robot trainer enhanced with sensors, it imitates human movements and can teach a range of exercises to senior citizens. It can also help provide cognitive therapy to seniors who have suffered strokes or have other age-related disorders.

The Centre for Healthcare Assistive & Robotics Technology (CHART) has been established with the support of Ministry of Health and Economic Development Board to enable health care professionals to work closely with industry, academia and research institutions to co-develop and testbed impactful healthcare solutions in assistive technologies and robotics.

One such technological enabler is the development of the Robotic Middleware for healthcare (RoMi-H). It standardises communication messages among heterogeneous robotic systems, sensors and information systems, thus facilitating interoperability among multiple systems and easing system integration effort in a bid to digitalise healthcare and automate processes.

Apart from CHART, other bodies or organisations that contribute to creating tech innovations for the healthcare industry are the MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation (MOHT) and Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS). Both the organisations have pushed boundaries in the digitalisation of healthcare, architecting the national IT strategies and roadmaps for healthcare, connecting and analysing complex systems across Singapore’s health ecosystem.

Sutowo concluded the conversation by reiterating MOH’s vision to be a leader in developing and deploying scalable, impactful technology-driven healthcare solutions to the nation’s citizens. The Ministry continues to relentlessly work towards this vision in future as well.

India deployed the world’s largest WhatsApp chatbot , MyGov Corona Helpdesk, in March 2020 to aid the country’s fight against the pandemic by disseminating timely and right information.

According to a report, the onset of the global pandemic brought about a panic wave in the country, so the government took it upon itself to curb the spread of rumours and misinformation. The government wanted a solution that would empower citizens with the right steps to take precautionary measures for staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The key objective was to offer a 24/7 helpdesk that answered COVID-19 queries and helped prevent the spread of false information. It was also important to handle the scale and diversity of queries being directed from millions of users across the country in English and Hindi.

Haptik is a Conversational AI company that built the MyGov Corona Helpdesk in record time. This Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) is essentially an AI-powered WhatsApp chatbot that provides accurate information. The chatbot has the following functionalities:

  • Help users check symptoms and get a diagnosis.
  • Provide tips and precautionary measures to stay safe.
  • Share the latest updates and advisories from the Ministry of Health.
  • Bust myths around COVID-19.
  • Share information about the official helpline.

Timely and accurate communication has been a key pillar in the fight against COVID-19. This has been greatly strengthened with the MyGov Corona Helpdesk, which has been handling millions of diverse queries in both English and Hindi. Since its launch, the helpdesk has successfully catered to over 25 million users with over 36 million queries. Remarkably, the chatbot was deployed in a record time of only five days.

A similar application was launched to help the public deal with COVID-19. Under the Digital India programme, in collaboration with Accenture and Microsoft, the government unveiled MyGov Saathi, enabling citizen communication. The bot uses AI and natural language processing to understand customer questions and provide appropriate responses.

The bot also directs residents to webpages with comprehensive information. Initially started in English, it has now been expanded the bot to Hindi and other regional languages so that it can reach more citizens in a personal, direct way. Currently, the bot has around 250,000 monthly users, and daily active sessions range from a few hundred to a few thousand, with total active sessions over a 16-day period nearing 600,000.

Further, another chatbot, Aaple Sarkar Bot, allows users to access information regarding public services managed by the state government and can process many queries every day such as analysing, maintaining records, and providing the user with the most useful information.

Through the app, an individual can search for services such as permanent water connection, driving licenses, and access-related information including prerequisites for the application, tracking the status of the application, and monitoring progress.

A news report explained that as part of the Right to Services Act of 2015, the bot is deployed to complement existing mobile apps and websites that help with queries related to healthcare, education, public utilities, rural development, revenue, and other public related services. The chatbot comprises of a range of algorithms that has the ability to process many queries every day, such as analysing, maintaining records, and providing the user with information. Haptik used its own personalised tool for creating the bot which comprised of three parts, including a bot-builder, human chat agent, and analytic dashboard.

Smart Nation Initiative Minister in charge, Vivian Balakrishnan announced that the trace together program will be stood down and all the data collected under the program would be deleted after the pandemic ends to maintains people’s privacy and government’s transparency. He reiterated that the sole purpose of the program was for contact tracing and to break the chains of COVID – 19 transmission. He added that the Ministry of Health might want to retain the epidemiological data for research purposes, but it will all be anonymised.

The government has also issued the procedure that will be in place to request deletion of data from the Trace Together app and tokens. When signing up for TraceTogether, a random user ID (a string of numbers and letters) is generated and linked to the user’s contact number and identification details, such as his name and NRIC number. These details are stored in a secure server, according to the TraceTogether website.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) uses the identification details to contact the right person when necessary. When the app or token users are near one another, their user IDs are exchanged in an encrypted and randomised form and can be decrypted only by MOH. The encrypted Bluetooth data exchanged is stored in the app or token, and does not contain personal, identifiable information. Bluetooth data older than 25 days is also erased automatically. Only when a user tests positive for Covid-19 will MOH request that he upload the Bluetooth data to the government’s servers for tracing close contacts.

The app also collects anonymised information about a user’s phone and app, such as the phone model and app version, to help the government improve the app and provide a better user experience. This data does not have personal, identifiable information. No global positioning system location data is collected. The Android version of the app needs “location permission” from the user because Android requires apps requesting Bluetooth access to also get permission to access the user’s location information.

Users can also request for their identification data to be deleted from the government’s server unless they are confirmed Covid-19 cases and their proximity data – or information about people near them – has already been uploaded to the government’s server.

For a user of the TraceTogether app, he can make the deletion request by e-mailing support@tracetogether.gov.sg with the mobile number he registered in the app.

For a user of the TraceTogether token, he can return the physical token to the government by first e-mailing support@tracetogether.gov.sg with the last four characters of his NRIC, FIN or passport number. The government will then let him know how to return the token.

When the request is received and can be made, the government will delete the user’s contact or mobile number, identification details and random user ID from its server. Once the deletion is completed, the data that the user’s device has exchanged with other users’ devices becomes meaningless because that data is no longer linked to the user.

When the nation fully recovers from the pandemic and there is no need to track and trace citizens to avoid the risk of infection, they will be prompted to disable the app or return or throw the token away.

The new strain of the COVID-19 virus was first discovered in South East Asia when a 45-person cluster got infected in Malaysia from a traveller who returned from India and breached his 14-day quarantine. The Philippines detected the strain among random COVID-19 samples in the largest city of its capital region. Since then, the world has been struggling to cope with the mutation that seems to be far more infectious.

The mutation called D614G makes a small but effective change in the virus’s spike protein, which the virus uses to enter the human cell. “The mutation is said to have a higher possibility of transmission or infectiousness, but we still don’t have enough solid evidence to say that that will happen,” Philippines’ Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing.

Graph: depicting the prevalence of the spike mutation in new cases in one UK lab, among RT-PCR Tests

The strain has been found in many other countries and has become the predominant variant in Europe and the US but the World Health Organization says there is no evidence the strain leads to more severe disease.

There’s no evidence from the epidemiology that the mutation is considerably more infectious than other strains, said Benjamin Cowling, head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong. “It’s more commonly identified now than it was in the past, which suggests that it might have some kind of competitive advantage over other strains of Covid-19.”

Managing the pandemic at a national and global level is extremely difficult at it is being done in an environment cynicism of public health institutions. Data breaches of hospitals, health facilities and similar databases have been a fairly regular occurrence.

National responses to outbreaks vary greatly from country to country and there have been conflicting messages between leaders, health agencies and experts. These have fostered increased concern and confusion in the wider population. As Southeast Asian countries take various steps to prevent a resurgence while reopening limited travel, they struggle with people breaching quarantine rules after returning from overseas as well as false-negative test results at borders.

The delays in rolling out available vaccines and the discovery of new strains have forced a number to countries to go into lockdowns again and enforce stricter social distancing norms and restrictions.

In an increasingly tech-dependent and tech-driven world, it is pertinent that the healthcare sector explores new technologies to provide information, options and advice. Citizens need safe and secure solutions that can help them track, monitor and manage risk from the virus and also help them go out for work and fulfil essential tasks of daily life.

Novel technologies and platforms, of course, have been launched to help inform citizens on testing, care and movement. The most well-known of these would be contact tracing and symptom-reporting apps, some of which are increasingly being deployed by local and national public health agencies.

Liberty and Passage is one such solution for this persisting problem. Developed by Access Anywhere, the total outbreak management system combines several cutting edge technologies on one platform that can be used across various sectors including airports, cruise lines, immigration and tourism boards. It is a useful tool for all industries to restart their business.

Using AI and ML, Liberty & Passage has been designed to help provide relevant timely information and build the confidence required to restart free movement between countries and continents, giving travellers when crossing borders and authority’s confidence when processing foreign visitors at customs.

With these critical features, Liberty & Passage is an outbreak management solution for individuals, organisations, and the entire travel industry.

The platform is designed for the entire population with Liberty Open designed to manage personal risk, Liberty Corporate for organisations to ensure a safe return to work and Liberty Passage for travel and reopening of borders. Everyone gains from the vast insights the system provides to be able to go about their normal lives while keeping as safe as possible against this virulent threat.

By joining the three pillars together, ‘the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts’ giving the general public, employees and travellers freedom to move with confidence and a more intelligent understanding of their risk exposure using cutting edge technology.

Tech innovation is helping to manage the pandemic and better equip countries when dealing with the current public health emergency and for future public health emergencies. Outbreak management systems will be the key in building confidence, mitigating risk and enhancing safety in everyday life.

For more information on how the Liberty Solution works – please visit www.libertyandpassage.com

The Australian government recently engaged software and data specialists to set up IT systems capable of managing and tracking the logistics of a Covid-19 vaccination program.

With four promising Covid-19 vaccine candidates progressing through clinical trials – and the first vaccine approved for emergency use in the US and UK – governments worldwide face the task of managing a globally coordinated supply chain effort to vaccinate their populations quickly and safely.

Once a vaccine is approved as safe and effective, which is expected to be early 2021, the Australian government is responsible for safely transporting doses from suppliers to the storage and administration sites. It will also have oversight of the locations of doses, stock levels, locations for vaccination and who has been vaccinated.

To manage the large scale, high-demand vaccination program, IT systems will be required to bridge multiple data sources and provide supply chain visibility and future demand forecasting.

Legislation has also been introduced to make it easier to keep tabs on who has received the jab, through an updated national immunisation register.

The government has started work identifying key system capabilities and gaps across the digital, data and reporting systems that will help to manage public demand, minimise reporting overhead, and improve the efficacy of the rollout.

A department of health spokesperson stated that this involves the consolidation of data from many existing systems and sources so that there is a central source of information about each dose and each vial. This end-to-end capability will allow the government to understand where doses are needed, improve vaccine access and avoid issues of excess stock or wastage.

The government is working to ensure it can track the location of vaccine stock at any time and is also engaging software and data specialists to ensure vaccines can be tracked at every stage in their journey, from receipt from the manufacturer through to post-immunisation monitoring.

Currently, orders and supply of other vaccines to states and territories are managed through the Department of Health’s vaccine administration system. However, the department does not have oversight or a contractual arrangement to oversee the forecasting, supply and distribution of those vaccines in the private market.

These arrangements are managed by individual vaccine manufacturers and suppliers. Local distribution of other vaccines such as the seasonal flu vaccine under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) is managed by individual states and territories.

Distribution

The federal government is also working with its state and territory counterparts, vaccine makers and logistics companies to coordinate the rollout of the vaccine.

A local transportation and logistics company is among those providing logistics advice about the options for cold-chain supply for healthcare cargo to both state and federal health departments as well as preparing to play a role in distributing the vaccine across the country.

Rather than building or buying a new IT infrastructure, the firm’s preparations to help distribute the vaccine will rely on the system it uses to distribute millions of influenza vaccine doses each year. Their distribution system is directly linked to their transport management system for shipments and a customer track and trace portal (MyToll) which can be used to monitor shipments. Information can be shared from the firm’s enterprise systems via APIs, system integration, web portals and reports.

These same systems can be scaled up to manage the distribution of the 40-50 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine that are anticipated will be required in Australia.

Immunisation status

System enhancements will also need to be made to the Australian Immunisation Register, a national database which will be used to record all Covid-19 vaccinations.

Earlier this month the federal government introduced legislation to make it mandatory for vaccine providers to report all vaccinations to the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) to help track and trace who is and isn’t protected against Covid-19.

The AIR is a whole-of-life national immunisation register that captures vaccines administered to those living in Australia.

However, reporting vaccinations to AIR is currently voluntary meaning the government doesn’t have a complete picture of who is vaccinated.

While vaccinations would remain voluntary, it would become mandatory to report that vaccines have been provided,” a spokesperson for the Department of Health said. Mandatory reporting in the Australian Immunisation Register means that people will be able to view an immunisation certificate through their My Health Record (MHR).

MHR is already connected to the AIR and could be used to generate immunisation certificates or alerts to remind Australians to get their second dose of the vaccine. Immunisation history statements, generated by AIR, can also be viewed and printed via Medicare Online, myGov or the Express Plus Medicare mobile app.

OpenGov TV Fireside Chat with Geert Carrein

Part 1 of our OpenGov TV Fireside Chat with Geert Carrein, Vice President of Diagnostic Imaging, Barco Healthcare