Published: Dec 15, 2020

AI-powered solutions in tackling COVID-19 and beyond

Across the healthcare spectrum, the implementation of the appropriate AI tech can add value to clinicians, administrative staff and of course, the patient.

After experiencing two winters, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly driving developments in technology and businesses, from autonomous vehicles to medical diagnosis, moving AI from theory to commercial applications. These innovative applications are increasingly important and becoming more prevalent in society. Common areas where AI are found to be effective and efficient include analysis of huge amount of data and information in a consistent and speedy manner; or when mundane operational tasks can be automated. 

In the healthcare industry,  AI has been utilized to reduce time spent on administrative and operational tasks such as claims processing and patient administration among others. This helps to free up healthcare workers’ time and can be channelled to improving patients’ care and experiences. AI can also help to break the iron triangle of healthcare (triple constraints on Quality, Access and Cost). 

For example, in telemedicine, AI-triage consultations and medications help to provide access to rural areas patients (or urban cities with serious traffic congestions), at an affordable cost and with similar qualities as a physical doctor’s visit.  Across the healthcare spectrum, the implementation of the appropriate AI tech can add value to clinicians, administrative staff and of course, the patient. 

COVID-19 related AI solutions

Given its highly infectious nature and easy transmission of COVID-19 through human contact or exposed surfaces, the use of robots and AI can help greatly reduce the potential of coronavirus transmission by reducing human contact, protecting frontline healthcare workers, administrative staff and the public at large.

NCS has deployed AI-powered thermal cameras with several public healthcare providers in Singapore. Given the manpower crunch at these healthcare facilities, the use of these cameras helped to reduce the need for manpower required to carry out manual, one-to-one temperature measurements with handheld scanners. 

These cameras can be integrated to the visitor and employee management system and contact tracing systems to facilitate monitoring and further follow-ups as required by the healthcare providers. 

At the Community Care Facility (CCF) located at the Singapore Expo to manage recovering COVID-19 patients with milder symptoms, NCS co-implemented Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solution to automate the admission, discharge and transfer of patients into/out CCF, which was previously done through a manual data entry method.

“The RPA solution helped to improve operational efficiency at the CCF, which had an indirect impact on the patient experience,” explained Jim Lim, Healthcare Sector Lead, NCS.

NCS’ Robot Health Manager helped in the remote surveillance of persons to detect unwell persons using audio and video analytics (for quick isolation or attention). The self-navigating robot identifies Persons of Interest (POI) contactless vital signs monitoring (temp, heart rate), sound and gesture sensors to detect cough.

“As a key technology partner with over 30 years of solutioning experience in the healthcare sector, NCS is committed to building our NEXT digital capabilities to meet the current and future needs for public and private healthcare institutions in Singapore,” said Jim.

Adding value to healthcare through AI

In the clinical setting, AI can be applied to great effect in areas of medical imaging such as CT scans and X-rays, in providing radiologists better insights and helping them make informed decisions. Thanks to advancement in deep learning technology in AI, it can analyze complicated medical images to better aid clinicians in detection and diagnostics. 

NCS Corp Labs’ in-house researchers leverage the latest tech, including AI and they co-innovate with local research institutions such as Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and public healthcare clusters with an aim to reduce administrative and operational tasks by healthcare workers.

“We are also working on the SG Health Assistive and Robotics Programme (SHARP), together with the National Research Foundation (NRF) and Ministry of Health (MOH) to increase the use of assistive and robotic tech in healthcare, as well as to reduce the burden of repetitive tasks,” said Dr. Yan Shi Xing, Director, Corporate Labs and Product Development, NCS.

He shared that while China is leading in the area of medical AI and has many organizations involved in the training of AI models, the AI governance framework in Singapore emphasizes on responsibility and reliability. 

“Although AI and deep neural networks can help predict outcomes, there may be occurrences of black box AI where the outputs and operations are not explainable. In the context of healthcare, explainable AI is a very important topic,” he added.

This is also why Singapore takes a very cautious approach in applying AI in healthcare, especially in the clinical context. Outside of the clinical setting, the use of AI can also add value to both patients and healthcare professionals in the entire healthcare journey.

For instance, to improve the overall patient experience, AI can be used to automate repetitive processes, process huge data in minimal time, and without human error. Overseas companies like UK’s Babylon Health and China’s Ping An Good Doctor use AI chatbots for the initial triaging of patients symptoms and conditions, saving time and bring convenience to consumers/patients. 

At Singapore’s Tan Tock Seng Hospital, patients get their medication in 10 minutes and that includes the time they take to walk from the doctor’s office to the pharmacy. This is made possible with the Outpatient Pharmacy Automation System (OPAS) which integrates automated dispensing machines and scanning devices into the medication workflow to manage tasks such as the picking, packing, labelling, assembling, verifying and dispensing of medication. 

With the system automating 80 per cent of the medication dispensing workflow, it also helped to improve staff productivity by doing away with the rework and reducing the number of calls they make to clarify prescriptions.

Looking into the future


NCS is currently exploring with healthcare and eldercare providers in Singapore to make use of teleconsultation tools to allow one-to-one interactions between patients and doctors. 

“We are also looking at deploying autonomous vehicles that are powered by AI algorithms for use in enclosed healthcare campuses for delivery of drugs and diagnostic tools. Additionally, we are seeking opportunities to work closely with life sciences and pharma industry to see how we can use our AI capabilities to help with reducing clinical/pharma trials,” said Jim. 

Another concept that NCS is looking to explore is the creation of AI-assisted robotic nursing assistants, which support nurses in carrying out tasks such as measuring a patient’s vital signs, delivering and dispensing medication as well as delivering items to patients autonomously. These robotic assistants, also known as Florence, generates up to 20% freed-up time for nurses to focus on patient engagement, according to early stage trials by NCS. 

Currently, NCS is also embarking on a pilot project with healthcare providers on the use of AI algorithms to assist patients to make decisions on the various healthcare financing schemes available during their hospital stay, which can help reduce complexity and create a seamless experience for patients.

To learn more about NCS' healthcare solutions, click here.

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