Is Telehealth Actually a Thing in Singapore?
Yes. Yes, it is. And it's going to get bigger.
Statista predicts that the market will reach nearly $460 billion in the next decade, a nine-fold jump from $50 billion in 2019. And it’s no wonder. The benefits are plentiful when you combine digital telecommunications and modern medicine. In Singapore, telehealth is already part of its ‘Smart Nation’ initiative since 2017. During that time, the government launched remote patient consultations over online video conferencing. Major hospitals, such as the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, have already embarked on providing telehealth services for their patients. But how will it benefit people in the long run? Is it a long-term solution?
What is Telehealth?
It does sound like something from the Jetsons, doesn’t it? Where all you need to do is plug into a screen and get the medical advice you need. Telehealth combines the power of digital information and communication technologies to provide healthcare services remotely. Healthcare providers can leverage telehealth to support, or improve, their services.
Telehealth can come in several forms, from virtual visits to remote health monitoring. I can also include technologies such as online patient portals, personal health records, and health apps.
How does telehealth improve patient care?
- Increasing Healthcare Access: Remote technology allows patients to access healthcare from nearly everywhere in the world. All you need is an internet connection. When it comes to mental health, online video consultation could be the first step towards getting treatment for those who feel uneasy visiting a counsellor for the first time.
- Preventing Disease Spread: This benefit was most pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, patients could still safely get diagnosed and get medical care as they avoided exposure to the virus.
- Better Coordination of Care: Your primary care provider can easily share or obtain information with the other specialists you visit. For example, they can use an online portal to share exam notes and test results of specialist referrals between different medical facilities.
- Consistent Monitoring: Healthcare providers can also access data from wearable devices to provide consistent care. (Finally, a good reason to buy the Apple Watch). If any abnormal readings show up, nurses could call patients to check their condition and send tips and info through text messages. Long-term care and help care providers can continually keep track of patients in the comfort of their homes too.
Telehealth in Singapore
The Ministry of Health in Singapore has been actively promoting the use of telemedicine. In 2018, they launched the Licensing Experiment and Adaptation Programme (LEAP) for telemedicine providers. It was a regulatory sandbox for both the industry and the government to gain a better perspective of the problems and opportunities of the telemedicine industry.
The pandemic spurred even more patients to use telehealth and virtual health services. During that time, patient subsidies and medical savings schemes had expanded to cover telemedicine too. Various telemedicine companies have seen a rise in usage and sign-ups for their video consultation services.
Then, after three years of research and adaptation, the government has moved to concretise its efforts with regulation and governance measures. Just last year, the new Health Services Act (HSA) allowed formal licences for telehealth and telemedicine providers in Singapore.
Today, Singapore’s healthcare system is fully embracing technology. Major hospitals are already taking advantage of the Smart Health Video Consultation platform. 31 community care partners have joined them as well. Telehealth in Singapore today covers areas such as:
- Follow-up for paediatric eczema pharmacy consultation
- Paediatric home-care
- Lactation consultation
- Speech therapy (for patients of KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital)
- Post-stroke, infectious diseases and cancer patient care
Polyclinics under the National Health Group (NHG) are now even using electronic sensors to monitor patients with chronic diseases. For example, patients with hypertension can submit regular blood pressure readings via a Bluetooth device.
The Next Challenge for Telehealth in Singapore
There are still barriers to adoption, even when patients are more confident in digital tools and services after the pandemic. One of the biggest concerns for telehealth services is privacy and data security. Singaporeans are no strangers to data breaches. According to Accenture, trust in tech companies has declined significantly because of high-profile incidents. Many feel that their data could be vulnerable or misused.
Consumers in Singapore also have elevated expectations for digital services even before the pandemic hit. Telemedicine service providers won’t be immune to that either. Close to half of the respondents in a 2019 Accenture survey expressed their willingness to switch to a new healthcare provider for high-quality digital services. 57% of the respondents also agreed that a bad digital experience would ruin the entire experience.
Even so, the telehealth and telemedicine sector in Singapore may gain a foothold among patients and consumers. Though most consumers still prefer in-person medical care, the younger generation of healthcare consumers are more open to virtual healthcare experiences. Consumers are even willing to receive virtual care from different sources, from a tech giant like Google or a local medical startup like Speedoc.
Speedoc: Healthcare Made Easy
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