Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower, at the inaugural HIMSS Digital Healthcare Week , 21 Oct 2013

Distinguished speakers and guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning

It gives me great pleasure to open the inaugural HIMSS Digital Healthcare Week conference this morning. Let me begin by extending a warm welcome to our international delegates and speakers. I am heartened to see, amongst us, thought leaders, key executives and IT experts in healthcare from Singapore, Asia and beyond. This is indeed a great turnout. 

Challenges in Healthcare Delivery : Access, Quality and Affordability

2.         Today, many countries in the world are grappling with the challenge of reforming or enhancing their healthcare systems to meet the changing healthcare needs of their population.  Demographic shifts, ageing populations and the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and chronic respiratory diseases, are major driving forces that are reshaping demand patterns and compelling many existing healthcare delivery systems to evolve.

3.         Singapore is no exception. Like the rest of the world, Singapore is also facing the challenges of an ageing population.  By 2030, about one-fifth of Singaporean residents will be 65 years and older.  This alone will lead to a significant increase in healthcare demand, as the elderly are not only more likely than younger citizens to be hospitalised, they are also more likely to stay in the hospital longer.  The growing incidence of chronic diseases also adds to the demand for healthcare services. 

4.         We face the challenge of ramping up healthcare services, while managing within the constraints of limited resources. In particular, it takes time to groom new doctors and nurses and allied health professionals, and the limited supply of these professionals is a challenge also faced by many countries worldwide.

5.         On top of this, we need to meet the challenge of providing a higher quality of care, while yet keeping healthcare affordable to our population. Ageing and the increase in incidence of chronic diseases mean that we have to alter our focus from once-off, episodic treatment in hospitals to the continuous management of chronic diseases within the community.  As our society becomes more affluent, citizens will also have increasing expectations of our healthcare system.  This includes not just clinical outcomes and physical comforts, but the way in which our healthcare institutions engage, communicate with, and address the emotional needs of patients and their loved ones.  At the same time, we must continue to ensure that basic healthcare remains affordable and within the means of all Singaporeans. 

IT As A Game Changer

6.         How do we square these competing objectives?  The conclusion is clear : we need to change the way we do things. First, we need to make breakthroughs in health promotion, and empower current and future generations of Singaporeans to lead healthier lifestyles. This means a better quality of life, and lower expenditures on healthcare services. Second, we need to find ways to integrate care across different settings to provide patient centric care and ensure conditions are well managed even after any hospitalisation. Third, we need to make delivery of healthcare more efficient to achieve more accessible and higher quality care without a corresponding increase in costs.

7.         Information technology is a game changer that can help us transform healthcare delivery in these areas.  First, IT can help us better monitor the health of patients, while the patients recuperate within the comfort of their own homes. For instance, Changi General Hospital has embarked on a pilot to monitor diabetic patients at home with glucometers and blood pressure meters to capture the readings and transmit them into the EMR. I understand that the new digital devices allow the monitoring of patients with wearable devices that are non-intrusive. These devices are capable of wirelessly transmitting the results to the EMRs, leading to faster results and reduction in human transcription errors. IT is also an effective channel to educate, inspire and motivate individuals to adopt healthy lifestyles. The healthyMEtv initiative by the Health Promotion Board is a trusted TV channel where the public can view health and wellbeing programs anytime, anywhere on any Internet connected device such as computer, tablet, smart phone and smart TV. Since its launch in October last year, there are over 2.6 million views of its videos to date. HealthyMEtv showcases over 1,200 interesting videos covering a wide range of topics from exercise, healthy diet, weight loss, relaxation techniques to medical conditions and how to prevent the onset of lifestyle diseases.

8.         Second, IT can greatly facilitate the integration of care across care settings, so that care can become more person centric and more effective. For instance, within Singapore, we are working hard to improve the flow of information across the healthcare sector, through the continued development of the National Electronic Health Record System.  It provides the platform for facilitating collaboration between the physicians in the acute, primary and long term care sectors, regardless of whether the healthcare provider is public or private. The sharing of patient information and the capacity for remote collaboration in patient care brings us closer to realising our vision of “One Patient, One Health Record”.

9.         Third, IT and technology can act as a force multiplier by reducing the need for manpower for certain tasks.  For example, medications in the hospitals are electronically ordered, packed by robot for the patient and then validated at the point of administering the medication by barcoding.

10.       As the number of seniors increase and the ratio of younger to older Singaporeans shrink, IT can serve as a critical enabler for Singapore in the provision of aged care. For instance, IT systems have been employed to allow physicians to productively treat patients even in remote locations. Residents of three nursing homes now have tele-consultations with their physicians at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. The elderly patients are treated promptly without having either party to commute. This has been highly effective, with clear benefits for both patients and doctors.

Conclusion

11.       These are but a few examples of how IT can enable a transformation in healthcare delivery. The conference today offers a unique opportunity for like-minded healthcare IT leaders in the region to come together to share our experiences and ideas in developing and managing our healthcare systems.  I believe that there is much we can learn from each other to do better for our people.

12.     Let me end by wishing you all a productive meeting. Thank you and have an enjoyable conference ahead. I hope that all of our foreign delegates would also have the time to take in the sights and tastes of Singapore while here.

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