DPM Heng Swee Keat at CHI Innovate 2022

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 4 November 2022

Pre-recorded speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at CHI Innovate on 4 November 2022.


Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I am very happy to join you virtually this morning for CHI Innovate 2022.

Singapore’s healthcare system has come a long way. Over the years, we have built a world-class healthcare system that we can be proud of. We have achieved one of the best health outcomes in the world, while ensuring healthcare is affordable and accessible. 

But it is a continuous challenge to achieve a good balance between what some have called the “iron triangle” of healthcare - cost, accessibility and quality. There are inherent trade-offs that make it difficult to achieve all three outcomes simultaneously. With our rapidly ageing population, we are also facing tighter constraints - a more limited labour force and tightening fiscal space. When I was Finance Minister, healthcare was one of the things that kept me up at night. Finding an optimal spot within the iron triangle will remain a key challenge for Singapore, and many other societies.  

The key to overcoming the “iron triangle” is innovation. Human health and potential is therefore a key thrust in our national research plans. But it is not just about research and innovation. Just as important is the translation of innovation into impact. So, I am glad that you have chosen “The Road from Innovation to Impact” as the theme for today’s event.  

Let me share three ways in which I think we can achieve greater impact in healthcare innovation. First, innovation at the systems level. Second, innovation in the use of technology. Third, fostering an innovative workplace culture.

First, we must innovate at the systems level. In this regard, a key innovation is to decisively shift from healthcare to health.

In most countries, there is too much focus on healthcare, and not as much on health. There is an over-reliance on medical interventions, with much of the care centred around hospitals. This leads to sharply rising healthcare costs, and over-burdened hospitals.  

In Singapore, we are implementing HealthierSG, a major national shift towards a population health approach. At the systems level, we will further shift our emphasis from reactively caring for those who are sick, to more proactively promoting good health. And in doing so, we hope to shift the focus from hospitals to the community.

One concrete manifestation of what it means to shift the focus of our system to the community is the Health District@Queenstown initiative. This is a collaboration between HDB, NUHS and NUS, along with many other agencies and partners. It will pilot innovations and initiatives in the neighbourhood that will help the community to lead healthy lives, regardless of age. For senior residents, we hope that they can enjoy more years in good health, allowing them to remain active.

This brings me to my next point. Beyond systems-level innovation, innovations in the use of technology will reshape the healthcare sector.

Even with the best of health promotion and active ageing, people will still fall sick at some point – perhaps later in life and hopefully for a shorter duration. But as our population ages, the demands on healthcare will increase significantly, even if we reduce the care needed for each individual. So, we will need to use technology and innovate how care is delivered.

COVID-19 has accelerated digitalisation across many industries. In healthcare, there is now greater use of telemedicine. Internet of Things will also pick up pace going forward. Already, wearables are commonplace today. When coupled with AI, they are powerful tools for managing chronic diseases.

Our healthcare clusters and hospitals are riding on these trends. For example, Tan Tock Seng Hospital has developed a vision of “Hospital without Walls”, with the support of CHI. By using intelligent systems and sensors, the hospital can more effectively monitor and manage its patients within the community, on a real-time basis. I am glad to announce that Tan Tock Seng Hospital is ramping up the use of telehealth and will be launching “Telepods” in 2023. These Telepods will provide clinicians with a conducive environment to conduct their teleconsultations. Some of the pods will even cater to remote exercise demonstrations by allied health professionals, so that patients can join in these exercise sessions from the comfort of their homes. 

While telehealth is a relatively mature technology, we should also explore other emerging technologies and tools. One example is Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, or VR/AR. VR/AR can be a powerful tool for healthcare education. They can provide an immersive learning experience for medical students and healthcare professionals, especially in the handling of acute care situations. I am happy to announce the launch of the new Virtual CHI Living Lab early next year. This is a collaboration between CHI, SingHealth, NHG, NTU Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and Duke-NUS. The new lab will enable innovation, validation, implementation of VR/AR applications in healthcare education.

Beyond digital innovations, there are many other innovations in the use of technology that will reshape the healthcare landscape. CHI and Temasek Foundation has organised the Healthcare InnoMatch, an open innovation challenge. 6 companies have received funding for their innovations, in areas such as AI, predictive analytics, and others. Importantly, the 3 public healthcare clusters joined this effort for the first time this year. Each cluster paired up with the winners, helping to test bed their innovations in actual healthcare settings. This will accelerate the development of the technologies. I am glad to see these public-private partnerships and hope that many more will come together to define our future challenges and co-create solutions to address them.

This brings me to my last point. Ultimately, we need an innovative workplace culture so that innovation can percolate throughout the healthcare system.

Healthcare ultimately remains a high touch industry. It is the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, allied health professionals and other healthcare professionals, who make the healthcare system tick. As our population ages, we will need even more healthcare professionals. MOH has projected that we will need 24,000 more nurses and healthcare staff by 2030.

But even though healthcare will remain high touch, it does not mean that there is no room for innovation. In fact, it is the opposite – innovation will be critical to support our healthcare professionals, so that they can continue to do their best for their patients and keep costs affordable. The key is that we must encourage an innovative workplace culture within healthcare settings, so that every healthcare worker feels empowered to make suggestions on how to innovate for the better. To foster this culture of innovation, everyone has a role to play – from the healthcare leaders to healthcare staff on the frontlines.

In this regard, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate the winners of the National Healthcare and Productivity Medals. These medals are an important way to celebrate healthcare professionals who have pushed the boundaries with breakthrough ideas. There are 8 National Healthcare Innovation and Productivity Awards this year. The winners are recognised for their innovations in Care Redesign, Automation IT and Robotics, Workforce Transformation, and Adoption. In all of these projects, the spirit of innovation and collaboration shines through.

I have spoken about three areas of innovation – at the systems level, in the use of technology, and in workplace culture.

But underpinning all of this is partnerships and collaboration. There is much that our healthcare clusters can learn from each other, and collaborate with industry, research institutes, as well as international partners. The project that won the Best Adoption Medal this year, which looked at using wearable robotic exoskeleton for rehabilitation care, is a good example. It was a collaboration across many institutions – NUHS, Saint Luke’s, Stroke Support Station, and NTUC Health. I encourage all of you to continue to break down boundaries, learn from each other, and forge stronger collaborations.

In that regard, I am glad that CHI has been facilitating such collaborations since 2016. You formed the Co-Learning Network, comprising healthcare institutions, research institutions and other stakeholders. Today, you have 37 local and international partners. CHI Innovate is yet another example of how we can bring together thought leaders from all around the world to learn from each other and co-create solutions. You have an exciting programme ahead of you today – with various speakers sharing on how to maximise the impact of healthcare innovation. 

I wish everyone a fruitful conference ahead. Thank you.