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Ministry of Health highlights importance of HealthTech in fight against COVID-19

It is no surprise that COVID-19 and the well being of the Singapore population dominated the Ministry of Health Committee of Supply debate last week, but another very prominent topic during the debate was the importance of technology in the health sector and how it had helped Singapore Healthcare System during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a speech by Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Health, at the Ministry of Health Committee of Supply Debate 2021, on Friday 5 March 2021, he commended the workers on the frontline, and all key health workers and made a special mention of the Health Technology workers who he said ‘had also played an important role. They rapidly developed systems to support new operational demands, including ongoing vaccination operations.

Growing the HealthTech workforce in Singapore

He acknowledged that these are important capabilities that are needed with the Singapore health system and added that:

“to grow our HealthTech workforce, we have worked closely with the Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS) to redesign jobs and actively recruit people into new roles, including software engineers, systems analysts and cybersecurity professionals.”

To facilitate mid-career switches into HealthTech, IHiS and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and SkillsFuture have curated specific training programmes.

Many citizens joining IMDA’s Tech Immersion and Placement Programme, which is part of the Techskills Accelerator have been able to change roles and work for IHiS on IT projects supporting the fight against COVID-19.

The government hopes that more people will see opportunities in this HealthTech space, and embrace the possibility that with some training they can join the healthcare system, not necessarily as a clinician, but contributing to the success of the public healthcare ecosystem.

Singapore’s early, comprehensive and persistent contact tracing and quarantine efforts have played a key role in the COVID-19 response. But beides the healthcare workforce, digital tools such as SafeEntry and TraceTogether continue to be central to the speed and efficiency of Singapore’s successful contact tracing system.

The National Electronic Health Records (NEHR) has also been a key enabler in facilitating this provision of care during the pandemic. Healthcare professionals can access NEHR for their patients’ COVID-19 test results and existing medical conditions before their vaccination. The NEHR has also been enhanced this year to meet the requirements for COVID-19 vaccination, displaying alerts and reporting prompts.

Dr Janil Puthucheary added “Beyond COVID-19, we must continue to be ready to respond to future public health crises by having the right systems and capabilities. Firstly, we will enhance our surveillance and response capabilities through the use of new technologies, to enable us to more effectively consolidate, analyse and generate insights from large amounts of data.”

How Technology eases pressure on the Singapore Healthcare system during the pandemic

Since the Circuit Breaker period, polyclinics, SOCs, and community nursing teams have used teleconsultation to reach their patients at home, allowing continued consultation and advice for these patients during the Circuit Breaker period.

We should tap on technology to deliver care more effectively while optimising our limited manpower resource” said Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Health at the Committee of Supply Debate.

Further, when ready, the National Central Fill Pharmacy will consolidate medications across multiple providers in a central location, enabling delivery of medications directly to patients’ homes, secured post boxes or other convenient locations. This will improve the access to pharmacy services, including for seniors with mobility needs and support new care models such as telemedicine.

The Minister also said that the government has also improved scheduling services and offer telehealth follow-ups for suitable patients, helping to reduce the need for multiple hospital visits.  He went on to mention innovative care models that have been introduced to improve the right-siting of care in the community.

Examples include the Urgent Care Centre (UCC) pilot concept and the GPFirst Pilot Programme which support patients with non-emergency conditions, helping them avoid unnecessary Emergency Department visits. He added that the Ministry of Health will review the performance of such technology-enabled services and innovative care models, and explore how they can scale up promising ones.

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