Singapore leads in going digital to build up healthcare workforce

Singapore’s health sector is at the forefront of digital technology adoption to address healthcare workforce challenges and improve efficiencies in healthcare delivery across healthcare settings, according to a report from Royal Philips.

The Future Health Index 2023 report, the eighth edition so far, covers about 3,000 respondents spanning healthcare leaders and younger healthcare professionals in 14 countries, including Singapore. 

“We will continue to support the industry with its digital transformation, enabling people, data, and technology to be seamlessly connected to improve patient experience of care, health of individuals and populations, work life of health professionals, and reduce per capita cost of healthcare,” said Ivy Lai, country manager of Philips Singapore.

Singapore’s Ministry of Health predicts as many as 24,000 additional allied health professionals and support care staff are needed to meet the demands of the country’s aging population and to operate hospitals, clinics, and eldercare centres by 2030. 

Amid the talent crunch, the survey found that 75% healthcare leaders in Singapore (above the global average of 56%) say they already use, or plan to use, digital health technology to reduce the impact of healthcare workforce shortages. 

The top three technologies identified to relieve the impact of staff shortages are cloud-based technology to support access to information from any location (53%), technology solutions that connect with out-of-hospital settings (40%), and workflow technology like digital health records and patient flow automation (33%).

The good news is that embracing such technologies and digital transformation has been associated with healthcare talent attraction. When choosing where to work, a healthcare facility being at the forefront of AI is the top consideration cited by younger healthcare professionals surveyed (39%). 

Other factors such as professional autonomy (such as flexibility to dictate care plans for their patients), availability of technology for everyday tasks (like tablets/iPads for notetaking, secure patient portals, etc.), and strong record of patient outcomes come next in second place (24%).

The surveyed younger healthcare professionals also see digital technologies improving their work satisfaction. 

These include the ability to access diagnostic capabilities from any location using a smartphone, for example via a portable ultrasound app (35%), the use of chat bots to provide patients with answers to basic medical questions via an automated service (33%), and portability of healthcare data between hospitals or practices (31%).

Since the pandemic, leaders in Singapore have prioritised solutions that allow them to further extend care delivery beyond hospital walls. 

Almost half (49%) of all respondents, whether healthcare leaders or younger healthcare professionals, recognise virtual care as having already had a significant impact on improving patient care. 

Singapore appears to have already reached the destination for virtual care that other countries are aiming for, allowing its healthcare leaders to redirect their resources. This shift is reflected in its healthcare leaders’ investments: about half (51%) are currently investing in virtual care, in line with 54% globally. 

However, this falls to just 11% planning to invest in the next three years, lower than the global average of 32%.

The report also finds that Singapore’s healthcare sector recognises the opportunities offered by AI and continues to show an increased appetite for future investment. 

Although healthcare leaders locally are less likely to be currently investing in AI technologies than the global average (25% versus 59%), as many as 84% plan to invest in the technology three years from now, indicating a definitive long-term commitment to AI, in line with the global average of 83%.