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Singapore, 7 July 2023 – There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to medicine because every patient is unique and has different needs.
To find out what health outcomes matter to patients, the Physiotherapy Department and Artificial Intelligence and Automation Unit at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) became the first in Singapore to leverage Robotic Process Automation (RPA), a software robot or ‘bot’, for Patient-Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs) collection in March 2022. PROMs are questionnaires used by healthcare providers to understand how patients’ condition are affecting them and their ability to perform daily activities.
“The desired health outcomes of a young active basketball player is vastly different from that of a housewife. PROMs will allow us to have a more accurate gauge of patients’ status and refine the rehabilitation approaches according to an agreed goal,” said Adjunct Assistant Professor Philip Cheong, Senior Principal Physiotherapist, SGH.
Patients with musculoskeletal problems seeing an SGH physiotherapist will receive an SMS prompted by the bot to complete the PROMs questionnaire online a day before their appointment. Those who forgot can still do so on their appointment day before seeing the physiotherapist. The bot will collect the submitted responses, calculate the PROMs score and send it to the respective physiotherapists via email before they see their patients at the clinic.
The use of PROMs, however, is not new to the Department. The collection process in the past was tedious and challenging. It was no surprise that less than eight per cent of musculoskeletal patients they saw completed the questionnaire in a small trial that lasted six weeks in 2019. Patients were only asked to do so when they arrive at the physiotherapy clinic. Many got there just in time for their appointment and had to spend about five minutes during consultation completing the questionnaire. The physiotherapist then takes another eight minutes on average going through the responses with them, calculating the PROMs score and documenting it.
The Department found that with RPA, there was a time savings of over 1,350 hours simply from not having to do manual calculations and documentation when they analysed the data between March and December 2022. This was despite a patient response rate of about 25 per cent, or approximately 10,000 out of the 41,000 patients attended to during the period. Physiotherapists were thus able to spend their time more meaningfully on patient care.
Each week, the Physiotherapy Department sees nearly 1,400 patients with musculoskeletal problems in the physiotherapy clinic. Works are already underway to roll out the questionnaire in other vernacular languages by the end of the year to push up response rate to 50 per cent. They also intend to expand the use of RPA in PROMs collection to other clinical specialties.
“While Robotic Process Automation enhances our processes back-end, it may also benefit our patients depending on use case. The Hospital will continue to look into wider adoption of RPA to take on repetitive manual tasks, and augment clinical workflows. By doing so, staff can focus on more complex work that requires thought process,” said Ms Chan Wai Ching, Assistant Manager, Artificial Intelligence & Automation Unit and RPA Lead, SGH.
Since 2020, 36 successful RPA use cases have been implemented across SGH with more than 52,500 man-hours saved and a productivity gain of over $1.8 million. Other RPA use cases include extracting and processing information from an online form for Medication Delivery Service as well as automatic billing of patients for laboratory tests performed at Specialist Outpatient Clinics.
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