HIT-ting it off with health tech
Technologies such as robotic surgery and artificial intelligence-based diagnostics look set to revolutionise the practice of medicine.
But even as these advanced innovations slowly but surely make their way into the clinic, healthcare practitioners still grapple with a host of important everyday problems: patients slipping and falling in the bathroom; poorly designed commodes and hospital beds; and patients who don’t comply with medication or physiotherapy regimes, just to name a few.
Technology can be used to tackle these problems too, judging from the exciting ideas put forward by the participants of this year’s Singapore Health Innovation Technology (HIT) Challenge.
Jointly organised by the Serious Games Association (Singapore), the National Health Innovation Centre (NHIC) Singapore and Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI) Singapore, the HIT Challenge 2017 brought together healthcare practitioners and technology partners to collaborate on innovative solutions to improve the delivery of health and social care services.
A HIT with the judges
After several months spent conceptualising and prototyping their ideas, 22 teams pitched their solutions at the HIT Challenge finals held on 26 August 2017.
“I was very impressed by the level of innovation and the ideas presented. As a clinician with very little knowledge of the technical aspects, this has been very educational and inspiring for me,” Dr Terrance Chua, senior consultant at the National Heart Centre’s Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and one of the judges, said at the event.
Joining Dr Chua on the judging panel were Mr Willy Koh, CEO of Racer Technology; Dr Lim Jeong Hoon, senior consultant at the National University Hospital’s Division of Neurology; Mr Gerard Chew, head of Innovations at Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS); and Mr Joshua Lim, commercialisation manager at NHIC.
Home for speech therapy
Taking third place in the Challenge was a team from the National University Hospital System (NUHS), who developed a prototype speech therapy app aimed at helping children practice on their own.
While children with speech impairments often benefit greatly from speech therapy, it can be difficult for them to keep up their practice at home with their parents or caregivers.
The app uses interactive games with varying levels of difficulty to engage with children and motivate them to practise, and also allows parents and speech therapists to communicate with each other about the child’s progress.
Critically, it also uses a range of technologies to provide feedback on the child’s performance — an interactive 3D mouth model, for example, allows the user to visualise lip and tongue movements during practice.
A team from the Singapore General Hospital bagged second place with their development of an intra-layer bandage pressure monitoring device.
While lower limb ulcers — a common problem in the elderly — can be treated with compression dressings, these must be applied with just the right amount of pressure. A too-loose bandage is an ineffective treatment, while a too-tight one will reduce blood circulation.
Developed in collaboration with biomedical engineers, the prototype monitoring device continuously measures the pressure between layers of bandages, giving visual feedback to both nurses and patients on the status of the dressing.
“When I was working in the ward, I saw many patients with lower limb ulcers. They are usually frequently readmitted, so we know them very well; they shared their stories with us and most of them were very frustrated with their condition. I always wished there was something we could do to help them heal faster and get back to leading a normal life,” said Ms Fazila Abu Bakar Aloweni, one of the team members.
The team is now planning to run further pilot tests with the device, as well as use it to teach nurses the correct technique for applying compression dressings, she added.
Siesta under the sea
For children, undergoing general anaesthesia can be a traumatic, anxiety-inducing experience with long-lasting effects.
The winning pitch, made by a team from NUHS, addressed this problem by creating an interactive virtual reality (VR) game and headset for anaesthesia induction in children.
The game, developed in collaboration with tech company Ignite VR, immerses young patients in an underwater environment complete with fish and other sea creatures; they ‘swim’ through it, breathing and blowing bubbles through a ‘snorkelling tube’—while at the same time inhaling the anaesthetic vapours.
“Play comes very naturally to children. It helps to create a less threatening environment and enhances the cooperation of children during the induction of general anaesthesia,” said team member Dr Tiong Hui Fen.
The team got the opportunity to pitch their Under The Sea VR idea at the Global Health Innovation Technology Challenge, held in conjunction with the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH) in September.
They were pitted against the winners of national-level HIT Challenges held in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines — and won first prize too!
Ultimately, the Ignite VR team got to present at the SLINGSHOT@SWITCH 2017 umbrella competition for start-ups.
They did not win, but the prospects remain very promising.
The Under The Sea VR invention has already been tested on a handful of young patients, who took it like — you guessed it — fish to water, said the team.