S’pore’s health science innovations get AI boost in SingHealth, SGInnovate tie-up

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A three-year partnership between SingHealth and SGInnovate to build and scale up health science innovations with artificial intelligence (AI) was announced. The partnership seeks to advance the development and adoption of AI as well as other emerging technologies to improve diagnostics and treatment, and enhance healthcare delivery and clinical outcomes in Singapore.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung witnessed the virtual inking of the memorandum of understanding by both parties on Tuesday.

SGInnovate – a private organisation owned by the Government – translates scientific research into technology-intensive applications, while SingHealth has under its wings Singapore’s oldest healthcare institution, Singapore General Hospital, said Mr Ong in his opening address at the event.

One local example of AI in healthcare is the chatbot Doctor Covid. The chatbot is able to speak to migrant workers infected with Covid-19 in their languages and enables healthcare teams to better monitor the workers’ clinical and mental wellness at community care facilities, Mr Ong said.

SingHealth’s extensive clinical and research capabilities and pool of clinicians and healthcare innovators, together with SGInnovate’s deep tech expertise and diverse community of corporations, start-ups and innovators, will maximise the potential of health science innovation.

The first area of focus is AI.

“We look forward to more AI projects in areas involving big data machine learning, analytics and risk prediction models that can improve diagnostic accuracy and speed personalised treatment protocols and optimise manpower resources,” Professor Ivy Ng, group chief executive of SingHealth, said in her address at the event.

For a patient, an AI solution when compared with the current standard model of care should produce comparable or superior results in terms of performance, and be of comparable or lower cost, Dr Lim Jui, chief executive of SGInnovate, said to reporters.

Calling this tie-up a “big step forward” as there has not been such relationships inked at this level, Dr Lim said: “Previously, things were very informal. When a start-up company needed an opinion, it will go and get one from a doctor in a public hospital and it was very hard to get a paid pilot because medicine is inherently and almost necessarily conservative as there are some risks involved to patients’ lives.”

He added: “But, of course, it is not opening the gates for everyone. If an idea is not well worked out, it should be rejected. Only the best proposals must go through.”

The partnership will focus on three main areas – first, advancing AI thought leadership in healthcare and innovation communities.

The two partners will regularly bring together SingHealth’s clinicians and innovators, as well as SGInnovate’s public and private sector partners in the health science and innovation communities.

These efforts include quarterly AI and digital innovation journal clubs to generate awareness in AI and digital innovation, as well as an annual AI In Health workshop to educate industry partners, healthcare professionals and the public on regulations, research findings and the adoption of various AI systems in healthcare.

The partnership will also provide start-ups with the resources they need to develop and grow.

Mr Ong said that SingHealth and SGInnovate will connect innovators to potential investors, and support start-ups in developing business plans, go-to-market strategies and commercial networking.

Start-ups with capabilities in big data analytics and AI model development could collaborate with SingHealth to co-develop an AI-based solution that provides personalised medication recommendations, and subsequently test it in a clinical setting.

The third area is developing talent through real-world training opportunities and exchanges.

The tie-up will tap venture capitalists and multinational companies for on-the-job training opportunities to help local talent develop innovation and enterprise capabilities, Mr Ong said.

Above all, despite the numerous ways that technology can mimic intelligence, it can never replicate the love, care and empathy of a good doctor, the minister added.

“Healthcare is an industry with high compassion and empathy. In our quest to raise capability and deliver better care, let’s make sure AI works alongside us, not as artificial intelligence, but as augmented intelligence that empowers our healthcare workers to have a greater capacity to bring more love, care and compassion to our patients,” said Mr Ong.