5G technology will unlock a plethora of smart, connected solutions and innovative applications with the potential to transform the Singapore healthcare landscape.
Smarter Healthcare in Singapore with 5G
With low fertility rates and longer life expectancies, Singapore’s population is aging rapidly. Government statistics, in a report by the Singapore Government’s National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), project that the population of those aged 65 years and above would be around one in four in Singapore by 2030. The aging trend was highlighted by the Deputy Prime Minister/Minister for Finance of Singapore, Mr. Lawrence Wong in his Budget speech in February 2022, further mentioning that healthcare will account for the bulk of increases in the Singapore government social spending by 2030 as the Singapore population ages.
To meet its citizens’ evolving needs, Singapore strives to find ways to enable its citizenry to age well and increase the years in good health through smarter innovations in healthcare. Smarter healthcare is on the way in Singapore with 5G technology, and in November 2022, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Heng Swee Keat, announced at the Center for Healthcare Innovation’s Innovate 2022 conference that 5G-powered robots, Augmented Reality (AR), and Virtual Reality (VR) could potentially be part of the Singapore healthcare landscape. A new Virtual Center of Healthcare Innovation Living Lab which will aim to augment AR and VR innovations into the training of medical students and healthcare professionals would also be launched in early 2023.
5G and Health Tech
The COVID-19 Catalyst: Accelerating the Need for Digital Healthcare
The healthcare sector has seen its fair share of exciting technological developments in recent years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest catalyst for healthcare technology innovation and digitalization. The pandemic rapidly transformed healthcare practice and single-handedly shifted the digital healthcare trend several gears forwards. The COVID-19 outbreak has augmented the pace of innovation and digitization in the healthcare space, and it has pushed remote patient services such as teleconsultation, telehealth, patient monitoring and management, telemedicine, remote surgery, and more to the forefront.
Health Tech Innovation with 5G
5G technology has been one of the keys in unlocking the potential of tech-solutions in the digital healthcare space as the features of 5G, such as low latency, high availability, high throughput, high connection density, and high speed, have been instrumental in many areas of the digital healthcare innovations such as telehealth, remote surgery, robotic surgery, 5G-powered robots, transmitting of large-size patient files, and patient monitoring and management.
At present, 5G in healthcare settings in Singapore is still very much in its infancy as compared to regional peers such as China, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan. Besides teleconsultation, 5G-powered robots have been used to deliver medication to patients at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and are now being considered for other uses, such as helping people navigate in hospitals, as part of a new 5G collaboration between the hospital’s Center for Healthcare Innovation (CHI) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), a statutory board in the Singapore government. Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Heng Swee Keat also mentioned that such 5G-powered robotics innovations will help the Singapore healthcare system cope with future challenges such as a limited labor force arising from a greying population. Earlier in the year in August, the IMDA awarded a 5G-enabled health technology project under its US$21.9 (S$30) million 5G Innovation Program. For this health tech project, the IMDA will partner with National University Health System (NUHS), Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel), and apoQlar GmnH to develop new 5G-enabled holomedicine capabilities that will use new remote rendering capabilities and Mixed Reality (MR) devices, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens 2. apoQlar is a software development company developing a MR solution called the Virtual Surgery Intelligence (VSI), which is designed for revolutionizing surgeries. The VSI HoloMedicine is a medically certified software platform that would leverage the Microsoft HoloLens 2 hardware to transform medical images such as MRI and CT scans, ultrasound, microscope or endoscopy images, clinical workflows, and medical education into an interactive 3D MR environment. IMDA has also mentioned that this project will enable the holomedicine platform to leverage a high-speed network which is essential for the real-time transmission of large volumes of data from the HoloLens 2 devices, which will allow operating theaters to take advantage of real-time rendering of high-resolution 3D images and holographic projections, scan reconstructions, procedure and surgical navigation, and remote assistance. IMDA further added that outside the operating theaters, capabilities such as enhanced visualization of patient’s veins during blood taking procedures, advanced point-of-care ultrasound imaging capabilities, and patient education and counselling would also be possible. The IMDA calls this project Asia-Pacific’s first 5G mobile edge computing for MR and holomedicine capabilities in health tech.
Transforming Healthcare with 5G in Singapore
Singapore has built a world-class healthcare system, and according to the International Trade Administration (ITA), Singapore ranks twelfth in the 2021 World Index of Healthcare Innovation. The 5G tide in healthcare worldwide would certainly open new horizons in Singapore’s digital healthcare landscape, and powering healthcare transformation with 5G technology would bring in a plethora of opportunities for innovative applications.
5G technology in medical settings have developed rapidly, particularly in China, the largest and one of the most technologically advanced 5G networks in the world. Huawei’s 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies have been used extensively in China’s healthcare landscape and Huawei has worked with telecom operators, hospitals, and medical equipment/service providers on innovative 5G healthcare projects. Huawei has also explored many innovative use cases of 5G healthcare, such as remote group teleconsultation, remote ultrasound, emergency medical services, remote training, and logistic robots. The Chinese market for smart healthcare is seeing a period of major growth and the commercial use of 5G in the healthcare industry will be robust as China’s enormous healthcare market continues to expand rapidly, driven by aging population and economic growth.
In similar news, Thailand’s Siriraj Hospital, the oldest hospital in Thailand with more than 134 years of history, has also launched the first and largest 5G smart hospital project in the ASEAN region, the “Siriraj World Class 5G Smart Hospital”, with the Thailand Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) and Huawei Technologies (Thailand) Co., Ltd. The project will utilize technologies such as 5G, AI, and cloud computing to develop smart emergency medical services, smart emergency rooms, pathological diagnosis system with 5G and AI, an AI platform for non-communicable diseases, smart inventory management, a permission-based block chain for personal health records, smart logistics with a 5G-powered self-driving car, multi-access edge computing, and a hybrid cloud system.
As one of the most technologically advanced Information and Communications Technology (ICT) markets in the world and an early adopter of new technologies, 5G technology has immense potential to transform healthcare in Singapore. Growth of 5G in the Singapore healthcare space is expected to be positive with a world-class healthcare system and supportive governmental investments set to accelerate digital health options and innovations. Likewise, Singapore could also learn from the innovative and established 5G healthcare models in China, Thailand, and South Korea. Additionally, the Singapore telecom operators could also be key stakeholders and partners in the Singapore 5G healthcare space as seen from the China telecom operators’ partnerships with China’s healthcare industry (IN-6283).