Populations in industrialised countries are getting older and older, posing major challenges for healthcare systems: as demand for services rises, the existing infrastructure and resources are increasingly struggling to meet this demand. In many European countries, hospitals and clinics are already having difficulty finding suitable staff. The burden on doctors and nursing staff is also increasing. Waiting lists for rehabilitation centres are getting longer, and healthcare costs are rising. So what can be done to ensure that healthcare systems continue to function in the future?
“We will not be able to avoid examining, treating and caring for an increeasing number of patients in their homes,” explains Rea Lehner. The 32-year-old Swiss scientist has been a programme manager and researcher at the Singapore-ETH Centre since March 2020. Together with ETH professor Nicole Wenderoth, she is responsible for setting up the new Future Health Technologies research programme. Its aim is to develop the scientific basis for the urgently needed transformation of the healthcare system through mobile, digital technologies.
Breaking new ground in Singapore
When it comes to healthcare, Singapore is a laboratory for the future. “The level of digitalisation is very high, and apps are already being used for many services. This is why we can run projects here that wouldn’t yet be possible elsewhere,” says Lehner about the healthcare system in the city-state. For example, a study of 3,000 people in Singapore is currently under way to investigate how falls and fractures can be detected and prevented at an early stage. Mobile sensors and algorithms are being used to determine whether a person is particularly susceptible to falling and has a high risk of sustaining a fracture. Based on these findings, tailor-made cognitive and physical exercises are then developed in the interests of prevention.
“A project of this scale is only possible through very close collaboration with the health authorities and local partners,” explains the ETH researcher. Singapore offers excellent conditions for this. Whether clinics, universities, or the authorities, those involved in healthcare work intensively to exchange information on a continuous basis. “There is a highly collaborative culture here, and on the government side, we have a well-connected partner in the Office for Healthcare Transformation, which always opens doors for us,” says Lehner. In addition, older residents of Singapore tend to be generally more tech-savvy and are not afraid to use digital mobile applications.