Revolutionising Singapore’s healthcare amidst demographic shifts and economic demands
Healthcare | 20 Nov 2023
Singapore’s healthcare industry stands out globally for ensuring universal access to good health while playing an active role in shaping the nation’s long-term economic goals. The healthcare sector’s unwavering commitment to research, innovation, and pioneering medical advancements, is part of the refreshed Industry Transformation Map (ITM) 2025.
The sector benefits not only residents but also elevates Singapore as a global epicentre for medical tourism, attracting patients and medical professionals from all corners of the world. Before the pandemic, Singapore established itself as a premier destination for medical tourism, drawing in approximately 500,000 medical tourists annually and contributing more than US$1 billion to the country’s economy.
At the heart of Singapore’s healthcare philosophy is a dedication to proactively address the challenges posed by the dynamic nature of health issues and the continual advancement of medical technologies, recognising the imperative to manage increasing healthcare costs. In Singapore, healthcare spending surged from S$3.8 billion in 2010 to S$11.1 billion in 2019, a trend expected to continue due to an ageing population and rising chronic diseases. Despite this, the government, allocating $6.5 billion in patient subsidies in 2020, is committed to managing costs while enhancing care quality and accessibility.
Additionally, a rapidly ageing population can hinder economic growth, due to a slower workforce expansion which can result in a heavier-burdened younger and smaller workforce. Innovative solutions and policies are required to counteract these economic challenges.
Given the rising healthcare costs and Singapore’s commitment to managing them, balancing cost and quality becomes crucial. This involves multifaceted strategies, including preventive care initiatives and public health campaigns promoting healthier lifestyles. The article will further discuss these strategies along with exploring the impact of an ageing population on economic growth and the workforce, as well as the role of medical tourism in Singapore.
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Digitalisation of the Healthcare Industry: Revolutionising Patient Care – How can digitalisation of the healthcare industry revolutionise patient care?
Digitalisation is also transforming Singapore’s healthcare landscape, with technologies reshaping service delivery from in-person to online, remote monitoring, and the usage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enhance medical delivery.
Telemedicine is pivotal beyond the pandemic
Telemedicine, a significant part of this transformation, offers valuable access to consultations and remote monitoring, especially benefiting those with chronic conditions by providing proactive care and enhancing patient outcomes.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine proved essential for triaging cases and minimising virus transmission while ensuring continuous healthcare access across different providers. Thus, decentralising healthcare made receiving treatments more convenient for Singaporeans. Its adaptability made it central to Singapore’s healthcare, shaping the future of healthcare delivery.
Advancing healthcare through Artificial Intelligence
In addition, Singapore is using AI tools to enhance healthcare delivery and drive innovation in the sector. Synapxe, the national HealthTech agency formerly known as IHiS, is implementing AI in specific projects to address challenges related to diagnostics, admissions, re-admissions, and healthcare management. By collaborating with and assisting the Ministry of Health (MOH) in achieving national healthcare objectives, Synapxe plays a strategic role in improving the health of Singaporeans.
Synapxe has demonstrated the use of AI in three projects:
- Diagnostics – Community Acquired Pneumonia and COVID-19 AI Predictive Engine (CAPE) supports efficient diagnosis of pneumonia patients
- Admissions – Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Control, Command and Communications (C3) system helps support hospital operations including admissions and resource management
- Readmissions – Multiple Readmissions Prevention Predictive Model reduces the risk of patient readmissions
Implications of an ageing population on the healthcare industry – How does an ageing population impact Singapore’s healthcare?
As Singapore grapples with a rapidly ageing population, the demographic landscape is undergoing a profound transformation. In 2022, 18.4 percent of citizens were 65 or older, and projections indicate that by 2030, nearly one in four citizens, or 23.8 percent, will fall into this age group.
With the growing elderly population, healthcare facilities, including hospitals and clinics, are facing mounting pressure. This will necessitate substantial investment in healthcare resources and a transformation of healthcare services.
Singapore’s push towards a tech-enhanced elderly care
At the forefront of Singapore’s response to these challenges is a commitment to leveraging advanced technology in healthcare. Pioneering innovations, particularly in the integration of AI, are a key focus. This includes exploring how advancements in technology can specifically address the unique needs of an ageing population and transform the experiences of eldercare.
In this transformative landscape, various technologies, such as wearables with automatic vital sign tracking and user signal systems, play a crucial role. These technologies enable the sharing of health information for personal monitoring and oversight by medical professionals or caregivers.
An illustrative example is a pilot project by the Singapore Management University and Tata Consultancy, where passive infrared sensors were installed in room corners. These sensors capture active motion and generate alerts in the case of irregular activity or inactivity, allowing for continuous monitoring of patients’ activities and health conditions and facilitating proactive care and timely interventions.
Expanding the capacity for eldercare services
Singapore is expanding its eldercare services and establishing modern facilities for seniors. These offer diverse residential and community-based care options, ensuring specialised and dignified care for the elderly. To address the growing needs of Singaporeans and the healthcare industry, at least eight new nursing homes will be erected within the next five years.
Promoting graceful ageing
Singapore strongly promotes “graceful ageing” as a fundamental principle of its healthcare approach. This concept empowers seniors to maintain their independence and quality of life as they age. Age-friendly environments, wellness programmes, and active engagement within the community can help seniors enjoy fulfilling and meaningful lives.
For example, EASE 2.0, an upgraded program from the original Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE), will introduce various measures to make HDB homes more elder-friendly. Additionally, the People’s Association Senior Citizens’ Executive Committees offers a wide range of activities to promote seniors’ well-being where seniors be active, bond and share knowledge.
This not only enhances seniors’ well-being but also eases the burden on institutionalised care, improving healthcare sustainability.
Investing in geriatric medicine research
Singapore is heavily investing in geriatric medicine research to develop improved treatments and care tailored to seniors’ unique needs. This commitment equips healthcare professionals with the latest knowledge and tools, enhancing the well-being of the elderly.
The Agency for Integrated Care and the Ministry of Health launched the Community Care-GP Partnership Training Award to fund course fees for practitioners who want to uptake eldercare-related programmes. This is designed to arm medical professionals with knowledge and skills to manage complex eldercare cases. These efforts ensure that the elderly population receives quality healthcare that caters to their specific needs.
Aligning investment strategies with Singapore’s focus on patient-centred care
To address challenges posed by the ageing population in healthcare, Singapore is strategically investing in outcome improvement while ensuring high-quality patient care, managing cost pressures effectively.
One such strategy is the emphasis on preventive care. The government has launched initiatives and public health campaigns to promote healthy lifestyles. To implement the new preventive care strategy, Healthier SG, Singapore plans to invest over $1 billion for setup costs, including new tech systems and support for general practitioner clinics.
In addition, by encouraging healthier living, Singapore reduces the long-term healthcare costs associated with treating preventable illnesses. This is because citizens will be able to care for themselves as they age and will only seek medical help when necessary.
Additionally, home-based care is gaining prominence as a cost-effective, patient-centric solution. To further support patients receiving medical care at home, individuals can use their MediSave accounts to pay for home medical and nursing services, as well as for video consultations in home palliative care services. On top of that, the Government has allocated $254 million for top-ups to the MediSave accounts of the elderly population, allowing them to use their accounts for various healthcare expenses.
These initiatives aim to enhance accessibility and affordability of healthcare services for individuals in the comfort of their homes, aligning with Singapore’s commitment to accessible, patient-centred care.
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A holistic approach to healthcare sustainability
In Singapore, a multifaceted healthcare system encourages citizens to invest in and prioritise their health, with the assurance that the government and the healthcare system are ready to provide support at different stages of their lives. This holistic approach acknowledges the complex interplay of challenges, such as an ageing population, digitalisation, and cost pressures, and the strategies developed to address them.
The collaborative efforts facilitated by the ITM 2025, which integrates lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and embraces new technologies, underscore the nation’s commitment to enhancing its healthcare sector through strong public-private partnerships.
As we navigate the ever-evolving healthcare landscape, Singapore’s unwavering dedication to staying at the forefront of healthcare serves as an inspiration for innovative and sustainable solutions to meet the evolving healthcare needs of its citizens.
This article is contributed by Syuhada Subuki, Engagement Consultant, IndSights Research.