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Human and Machine: tackling ASEAN Pacific’s healthcare skills shortages through Adaptive Intelligence

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Jun 17, 2019 - reading time 6-7 mins

By Caroline Clarke

CEO, Philips ASEAN Pacific


Caroline Clarke is the Chief Executive Officer for Philips in ASEAN Pacific. She is responsible for the overall strategy, business and management of Philips in 14 countries across the region.

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ASEAN Pacific faces several healthcare challenges, a key one being a shortage of skilled workers. To meet rising healthcare needs, the region needs to go beyond boosting the number of healthcare workers and facilities, and technology will be key. We believe that Adaptive Intelligence could be the silver bullet.  

– Adaptive Intelligence to solve healthcare skills shortages

ASEAN is set to become the 4th largest global economy by 20501. Yet it faces significant healthcare challenges in the coming years, with rising rates of chronic illnesses and aging populations presenting a real threat to the quality of care for patients.

In Singapore, despite the success of recent recruitment drives to boost the city-state’s healthcare workforce2, our latest Future Health Index (FHI) study finds that there is still a lower than average density of skilled healthcare professionals in relation to the size of the population, which in turn has an impact on access to care.

And Singapore isn’t alone. Indonesia faces a severe shortage of doctors and would need 15 times its current number to meet the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) standards3, and Australia is expected to have a shortage of 123,000 nurses by 20304.

While recruiting and training more medical professionals and building more healthcare facilities are welcome, alone they will not be enough to guarantee that healthcare systems are fit for purpose in the years to come given that people are living longer.

In Singapore, life expectancy has risen from 75 to 83 within a generation, along with a greater number of Singaporeans than ever now expected to make it to their 100th birthday5. To meet the rising healthcare needs of the future, the region needs to go beyond boosting the number of healthcare workers and facilities. There needs to be a fundamental shift in how healthcare is delivered, too. And technology will be key to this.

Working smarter to make resources go further

Artificial Intelligence (AI) – although still in its infancy in healthcare – has huge potential to address the region’s skill shortages in the long term.  


A key benefit of AI for the healthcare sector is its ability to automate routine, time-intensive tasks, thus freeing up medical professionals to use their skills where they can make the biggest difference to patient outcomes. 


It can also rapidly analyze data and ‘learn’ as it goes along – delivering more targeted and precise results.


Monitoring vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure can be done in real-time and more frequently with AI too, compared to a manual process. As a result, care teams can be alerted sooner to changes in these vital stats, which can be the difference between life and death for patients in critical care. Additionally, it also enables monitoring of more patients at the same time, both within and outside care facilities. 


Diagnosis is another area where AI could alleviate skills shortages in the future. Analyzing medical reports and X-rays can be a time-intensive activity for medical professionals. AI has the potential to greatly improve efficiency in diagnosis by analyzing vast quantities of data far quicker than the human mind ever could, comparing it with thousands of scans to provide an accurate diagnosis in seconds. 


This is particularly beneficial to some countries, as it allows them to easily compare their results to, and access information from, some of the world’s best doctors to make quicker, more accurate diagnoses – something that was previously not available to them. The result – a much more efficient assessment process and more often correct first-time diagnoses.

An evolving human role

All this said, AI will never replace the ‘human touch’ – as the clinical, operational and contextual knowledge of humans will always need to be factored in for accurate diagnoses. 


Rather than the ‘human versus machine’ of science fiction, we see the future as ‘human and machine’.


We call this ‘Adaptive Intelligence’ – combining the capabilities of artificial intelligence and other technologies with the clinical, operational and contextual domain knowledge of medical professionals. As the region’s patient numbers inevitably grow, this new working practice will need to become mainstream to maintain – and even improve – standards of care. 

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