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What are the ramifications for Singapore’s
healthcare system if Covid becomes endemic?

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Ivy Lai
Jul 19, 2021 - reading time 5 mins

By Ivy Lai

Country Manager, Philips Singapore

Ivy Lai is the Country Manager for Philips Singapore. She is responsible for overseeing Philips Singapore’s transition strategy from a consumer electronics company to a leader in health technology.

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It is increasingly likely that Covid-19 will be another virus that we have to learn to live with; scientists and governments now agree that the most probable long-term outcome is that it becomes endemic in large parts of the world.
Healthcare delivery with an endemic virus

In the last 18 months, the pandemic has had an enormous impact on how, where and when healthcare is delivered, and it is now probable that some of the changes that it has ushered in will become permanent fixtures.

 

What does this mean for those on the frontline?

 

Our latest Future Health Index 2021 report points to three ways that Singapore’s healthcare system has been impacted by the pandemic, and hints at what the future could hold if it does become endemic:

Extended planning cycles

Our Future Health Index 2021 report reveals that the pandemic has impeded the ability of Singapore’s healthcare leaders to plan for the future. This problem is compounded by the fact that healthcare leaders in Singapore appear to typically have a shorter business planning cycle than any of their peers across the 14 countries surveyed, approximately 1.85 years in advance on average (vs. 3.25 years on average across the 14 countries surveyed).

 

This tendency towards short-term planning may be creating challenges for healthcare leaders looking to plan beyond the current crisis. It is clear that, if Covid is here to stay, Singapore’s healthcare leaders need to find a way to begin focusing on other priorities again, so that they don’t lose sight of important mid- and long-term goals.

 

Accelerated adoption of telehealth

In Singapore, as elsewhere in the world, Covid-19 has accelerated acceptance and use of telehealth in various aspects of diagnostics and treatment. With the perennial threat of further flare ups and new variants, it looks like this is here to stay rather than a short-term fix.

 

Indeed, Singapore’s healthcare leaders anticipate that, three years from now, about a quarter (26%) of routine care delivery will take place outside of the walls of hospitals or healthcare facilities in Singapore, from a figure of around 20% today. And, while those surveyed said that just 19% of routine care being provided outside of the hospital is currently delivered in the home, they predict that 45% will be delivered at home three years from now – a bold target, which is higher than any of the other countries that we surveyed for this report.

 

This signals a greater shift towards both patient-centric and value-based models of care, which is good news for patient outcomes. But to roll it out effectively, Singapore’s healthcare leaders need to think about how best to design and implement this as a permanent strategy. Based on the findings of the Future Health Index 2021 report, staff training will be critical for this, with lack of training currently cited as the biggest barrier to the wider adoption of digital health technologies by nearly half of Singaporean healthcare leaders (47%).

 

Unlocking Artificial Intelligence’s full potential

Hand-in-hand with telehealth adoption is the opportunity to improve healthcare delivery and outcomes through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. Singapore already ranks as one of the leading nations in the Future Health Index 2021 study in terms of prioritizing and investing in AI.

 

Current investment is focused primarily on administrative tasks like automating documentation, scheduling appointments, and improving workflow, above clinical and diagnostic applications. However, if Covid becomes endemic there is an opportunity to use AI even more frequently and in even more aspects of care. To sustain the pace of innovation, Singapore’s healthcare leaders will need to shift from using AI for administrative uses, to much wider deployment.

 

At the end of the day, greater digitization of healthcare systems is a positive bi-product of the pandemic. Now that it looks to be here to stay, healthcare systems need to find ways to make their short-term solutions work well as permanent delivery models. For Singapore, this promises big opportunities and, done correctly, could help in the important transition from volume to value-based care models.

About Future Health Index

The Future Health Index (FHI) is a research-based platform designed to help determine the readiness of countries to address global health challenges and build sustainable, fit-for-purpose national health systems.

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