The digital transformation at the heart of Mount Alvernia Hospital, Singapore

Director of Technology and Strategy, Bruce Leong, shares how the hospital is building secure digital healthcare services.

In Singapore, long queues at hospital registration counters are slowly disappearing. Patients can make online appointments, or scan their identity cards at a dedicated kiosk – or even consult with a doctor virtually, especially during these unusual times.

With well-defined strategies and strong support from the government, hospitals in Singapore are creating digital services that make it that much easier for patients to get the treatment they need, giving them more space to focus on their health and recovery. Mount Alvernia Hospital has made this a priority, says Bruce Leong, Director of Technology and Strategy.

He tells Hospital Insights Asia how the hospital is building seamless, secure ways for patients to transact at the hospital, and to lower the risk of human error across teams.

The journey to healthcare 4.0

 The hospital has an electronic medical records (EMR) system which went live in 2018, and which was designed with input from clinicians themselves. “We have a group of doctors who formed a committee to give ideas and suggestions on what they’d like to see,” Leong explains.

Now, the focus is on enhancing it, and “refreshing older systems”. Improving workflows, providing remote access to doctor’s mobile phones, fine tuning the system to reduce ‘alert fatigue’ – these are just some ideas for the future, according to him.

The hospital also uses automated guided vehicles that transport heavy items such as linens and deliver food to wards; and is exploring robotic process automation, Leong says.

It is crucial for any hospital to have an EMR system, he believes. Digital helps to cut the risk of “near misses” – human errors which may occur during changing of shifts or as teams communicate with each other. “On paper, you may have near misses and transcription errors,” he points out.

What’s more, the value proposition of digitalisation for any hospital is to build better patient safety, Leong continues. An EMR system centrally documents patients’ journeys across the patients’ care paths, helps to reduce medication errors, and can flag up patients’ allergies, as just some examples. It is simply better governance too, Leong says.

And no digital transformation is possible without wholehearted support from the top. “When leaders are engaged, it is much easier to cascade down. All of them buy into this journey,” says Leong. It means a lot of training for staff: he shares how the hospital has appointed “tech champions” among nursing teams to help them get used to the new digital ways of working.

“When leaders are engaged, it is much easier to cascade down.”

Digital verification for patients

The hospital has been working with the government in its bid to go paperless – in particular, on implementing the Moments of Life (MOL) initiative. MOL provides relevant information and services to citizens at key moments of their lives, such as when they are about to give birth.

This means digital birth registration, which is more convenient for the patient; previously, the process was on paper forms, says Leong. “From birth, there is an electronic birth record and certificate,” he explains. Since 2018, MOL has been used to register births at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Singapore General Hospital and National University Hospital, the Straits Times reported. New parents can also use the app to apply for the government’s Baby Bonus scheme.

At the same time, Mount Alvernia’s patients can use MyInfo, a nationwide data platform that automatically fills out government online forms for them. It means they do not need to put in their details multiple times, Leong remarks.

The hospital has also integrated SGVerify, an identity verification service designed by the government. It is a secure method to verify patients’ identities and transfer data between patient and hospital, all through scanning QR codes with smartphones.

Keeping data safe and secure

An EMR system needs to be as secure as possible, especially as hospitals handle extremely sensitive data. “The challenge is actually more on security protection, as we exchange a lot of personal information,” Leong notes. “We spend a fair bit of time and effort securing the EMR.”

His team is working with potential supplier on a proof-of-concept of a biometric login function for hospital computers, which will be much more secure than passwords. The added challenge is that doctors are usually gloved up and wearing surgical masks, so the system has to be able to identify them from scanning their partially covered faces, Leong notes. While recent events have thrown this initiative off-course somewhat, he hopes that this function will go live by this year.

There exists this idea of hospitals as overcrowded, inefficient and outdated places. Mount Alvernia and other hospitals in Singapore are leveraging on digital, data and innovation to change this, and build seamless patient experiences.