Singapore’s healthcare professionals are not yet leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to its full potential for treatment and diagnosis, according to a new report by Royal Philips.
The report - Future Health Index (FHI) 2019 - found that healthcare professionals in Singapore are using AI technology more for improving the accuracy and efficiency of administrative tasks than for diagnosis and monitoring.
For instance, the report found that 37 per cent of healthcare professionals in Singapore used AI for administrative duties such as staffing and patient scheduling, compared to for diagnosis (28 per cent), flagging patient anomalies (26 per cent) and facilitating remote patient monitoring (25 per cent).
Furthermore, the report highlighted the progress emerging countries have made in the application of AI to the healthcare sector, with China and Saudi Arabia leading the way globally.
In the case of China, nearly half (45 per cent) of its healthcare professionals are using AI technology to improve the accuracy of their diagnoses. In the case of Saudi Arabia, 34 per cent of their healthcare professionals are using the technology for the same purpose.
For China, this follows significant investment in the field of AI, accounting for 60 per cent of the total global investment between 2013 and Q1 2018.
Elsewhere in the region, India is not far behind Singapore in its healthcare professionals’ use of AI for improving the accuracy of diagnosis (26 per cent), but Australian healthcare professionals record the lowest use amongst the 15 countries in the study at just eight per cent.
The report also hints that apprehension amongst Singapore’s healthcare professionals may be one of the barriers to wider adoption, with one in five (20 per cent) admitting that they fear their long-term job security is threatened by new advancements in healthcare technology, such as AI and telehealth.
“By primarily using AI for administrative tasks, like scheduling appointments, Singapore’s healthcare professionals risk missing out on the enormous benefits it can bring to patient outcomes,” said Caroline Clarke, CEO of ASEAN Pacific at Philips.
“Technology will never replace the ‘human touch’, but AI can save time and improve diagnosis accuracy thereby having a huge potential for saving peoples’ lives."
The report reflects independent research, commissioned by Philips, of what is required to accelerate the shift from volume-based to value-based care in the global drive for sustainable healthcare systems.
Now in its fourth year, the report’s researchers identified three additional key themes in Singapore, namely engaged and digitally enhanced healthcare professionals, providing patients with greater access to healthcare data and more control over it, and finally, the willingness to learn from the frontrunners.
Digitally enhanced healthcare professionals
Artificial Intelligence aside, the report highlights that Singapore consistently outperforms its Asia Pacific neighbour Australia and holds its own amongst additional Asian countries that were part of the study in terms of digital technology usage, with 89 per cent of Singapore’s healthcare professionals using digital health records in their hospital/practice, compared to 81 per cent in Australia and China, and 76 per cent in India.
More than four in five Singaporean healthcare professionals (86 per cent) also share patient information electronically with other healthcare professionals that are inside their health facility, compared to 84 per cent in Australia, 81 per cent in China and 80 per cent in India.
This adoption is thanks, in part, to Singapore’s healthcare professionals recognising the benefits that digital technology can have on patient outcomes and experience.
Eighty percent of Singaporean healthcare professionals that use digital health records report a positive impact on quality of care provided, whilst 69 per cent report a positive impact on patient outcomes.
The study also indicates that giving patients access to their own health data has several benefits, with two in three Singaporean healthcare professionals (67 per cent) affirming that patients having access to their own health data has positively impacted their experience in the last five years.
Despite this, only 28 per cent of Singaporeans have access to their digital health record, whilst one in five (20 per cent) do not know whether they do, or not.
The study also highlights that reciprocal data sharing is not being done as much as it could be in Singapore either.
More than half of Singaporean healthcare professionals often, or always, advise their patients to track key indicators of health such as their blood pressure (61 per cent), physical activity (57 per cent) and weight (53 per cent).
However, 43 per cent of Singaporeans have never shared health data that they have collected from digital technology or mobile apps with healthcare professionals.
Of people who have access to their DHR, 50 per cent would be more likely to use it if they were clear about how it could make managing their health easier.
As a result, Singaporeans fall below the 15-country average (47 per cent) in contacting healthcare professionals and taking action based on the health-related data they have collected (34 per cent).
“It is encouraging to see that Singapore’s healthcare professionals are recognising the positive impact of digital health technology and reciprocal data sharing, but patients will need to be on board too for Singapore to really see the benefits,” said Clarke.
“More needs to be done to educate and encourage Singaporeans to proactively collect and share their health data on an ongoing basis. This will be key for Singapore to shift to disease prevention over cure in the long-term,” she added.
Learning from forerunners
The third theme of the FHI 2019 report finds that some emerging countries have leapfrogged Singapore in their adoption of certain types of digital health technology.
In addition to leading the way in AI, China and Saudi Arabia have higher rates of telehealth adoption by healthcare professionals at 89 per cent and 75 per cent respectively, compared to 68 per cent in Singapore, 61 per cent in Australia and 66 per cent in India.
The report indicates that this could be due to higher patient demand in these countries, with 44 per cent of individuals in China, and 38 per cent of individuals in Saudi Arabia stating that, if given the choice, they would prefer a consultation with their doctor remotely via a digital channel for non-urgent care, compared to just 27 per cent of Singaporeans.
A similar trend is seen in relation to reciprocal data sharing, with 81 per cent of individuals in China and 74 per cent in Saudi Arabia reporting that the information that they receive from their digital health technology and mobile apps frequently leads them to contact healthcare professionals, compared to just 34 per cent of Singaporeans who say the same.
“Singapore has enjoyed a reputation as a global leader in healthcare and needs to continue to prioritise the adoption of new technologies,” added Clarke.
“Increasing not only the adoption, but also the usage of digital health technology among Singaporean individuals could empower patients to adopt a more proactive attitude towards health management, ultimately improving healthcare outcomes,” she added.
The Future Health Index surveys were fielded from March 4 to May 19, 2019 in 15 countries (Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, The Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Poland, UK and US) in their native language.
Furthermore, the survey was conducted online and offline with a sample size of 1,000 per market for individuals (general population) and 200 per market for healthcare professionals.
The exceptions were the US and Germany, which each had slightly larger samples of healthcare professionals.