Singapore fosters collaborations in robotics & assistive technologies to transform healthcare delivery.
Anyone who wants to know how the “Hospital of the Future” will look like or what “Hospital to Home” means should look to Singapore. From the integration of smart wards with smart logistics to developing solutions that enable seniors to age in place for longer at home, Singapore is paving the way forward for the future of healthcare delivery by combining the use of robotics with assistive technologies.
The Centre for Healthcare Assistive & Robotics Technology (CHART) is the first-of-its-kind collaborative platform that enables healthcare professionals to work closely with industry, academia and research institutions to co-develop and testbed impactful healthcare solutions based on assistive technologies and robotics. Since CHART’s launch, with the support of the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), it has worked on more than 20 projects in health care robotics together with more than 30 organisations from Singapore, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
Co-creating solutions and grounded prototyping
The overriding goal of CHART is to help bring about a better and more sustainable healthcare system, particularly for an ageing society. CHART focuses on solutions that aim to transform care delivery, improve health and clinical outcomes, assist in the automation of processes to improve productivity in the sector, support care at home and enhance medical training. These solutions are co-developed by collaborations with companies and academia based on problem statements put forth by healthcare providers. They are then prototyped and tested in simulated healthcare settings.
Ms Selina Seah, Assistant CEO, CGH and Director, CHART comments, "By partnering with CHART, solution providers realise that what was envisioned in an engineering lab could be vastly different from how healthcare delivery is provided. Our aim is to bridge healthcare insights with engineering and technical expertise such that sustainable and applicable healthcare solutions could be developed and deployed to achieve efficient operations and deliver better health outcomes.”
In order to validate the feasibility of the prototyped innovations, CHART provides a physical test-bedding facility. It houses a design lab and living lab with mock-up wards, clinics and surgery rooms where engineers, researchers and solution suppliers simulate the deployment of solutions in real scenarios. They also work in close proximity with healthcare professionals to gather grounded feedback and insights on how the solution could be fine-tuned for actual usage.
The Soutenir Gait Assessment robot
An example of this is the Soutenir gait assessment robot which physiotherapists from CGH co-developed with Japanese startup Reif Co., Ltd. Typically in clinical settings, therapists rely on manual measurements during the set up for gait assessment and depend on observational skills to identify abnormal gait patterns. These are time consuming to obtain and the assessment is dependent on the therapist’s experience and interpretation.
The jointly developed gait assessment robot automatically captures gait parameters to generate objective reports which could be utilised to tailor rehabilitation interventions and exercises calibrated to each patient’s needs. This augments the therapists’ qualitative assessments and allows them to focus on ensuring the safety and recovery of patients who have mobility issues.
Singapore’s Smart Nation push
CHART is pushing the boundaries in the use of robotics in what has traditionally been seen as a high-touch service sector and contributes to Singapore’s vision of being a Smart Nation. This is where Singapore strives to innovate and leverage on technology to make healthcare delivery more proactive, more patient-centric, and more productive.
CHART demonstrates how Singapore adopts collaborative project structures to encourage innovation. Building on this journey, Singapore’s Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the National Robotics Programme (NRP), and the Government Technology Agency, promotes the development of a Standardized Healthcare Robotics Middleware, to enable robotic and medical systems to be interoperable and integrated as a platform for Singapore’s Smart Health systems.
As Ms. Seah explains, “Today each solution provider establishes a standalone solution which will not allow operational efficiency in large scale adoption of robotics. The middleware framework essentially orchestrates a common command and control system undergirded by a universal communications framework between a robot fleet. Such a plug-and-play model will allow healthcare providers to interweave functions of diverse robots into complex operational and healthcare workflows instead of having to manage each proprietary robot system separately.”
On a broader level, the Centre works with the NRP a multi-agency initiative to coordinate and support the end-to-end development of robotics technologies across different domains such as healthcare, logistics, manufacturing, transportation, environment and homeland security. This will potentially support companies in developing new business models around monetising robotics technologies and the services that comes with adopting them. Already, the confluence of healthcare technology, user experience and business models could revolutionise the healthcare market.
“Given Singapore’s demographic changes and shrinking workforce, we must expediently look into solutions that extend the life span of our workforce and empower our population to carry out higher value tasks…If we do not take the chance now for transformation and improve productivity using enabling technologies, then we will be in a greater need for more nurses in the next 10 to 20 years, which we will not get. We welcome collaborators keen to join us on this journey of shaping healthcare for the future,” Ms. Seah says.