Singapore’s reputation for its stellar healthcare has been long established. We rank the top out of 188 nations in the United Nations’ health goal rankings, and Singapore is widely considered to have one of the best healthcare systems in the world. This has certainly put the spotlight on Singapore when it comes to handling the global healthcare crisis.
With Asia-Pacific expected to be home to 60% of the world’s population of over-65s by 2030, Singapore is well set to play the role of a regional medical hub. However, there is more than the threat of COVID-19 at hand as a disruptor – universal factors such as rapid digitization, changing patient demographics, and increasingly connected consumers all put pressure on our healthcare system to be able to quickly innovate to meet changing times.
In a recent conversation with Dr. Michael Ho, Head of Innovation, National Health Innovation Centre, Singapore (NHIC), we spoke about how Singapore’s healthcare system has weathered COVID-19 and what the future looks like for healthcare and med-tech innovation.
The Ideal Environment for Healthcare Innovation
The COVID-19 crisis brought forth a period of innovation in healthcare across the board, with Singapore as no exception. The accelerated development, testing and release of the Fortitude Kit to test for COVID-19 that is now deployed in over 20 countries, highlights the race to innovation that Singapore has led in the region.
Singapore has significantly benefited from its own ability to scale and accelerate innovation. According to Dr. Ho, Singapore’s efforts to build a strong ecosystem of innovation – between the public sector and global industries – is largely due to the successful development of a system of innovative culture. Likening it to having the right ingredients at the right time, Dr. Ho shared that Singapore has put in the effort over time to build an innovation infrastructure with the right funding sources, industry partners and ground-up innovators – allowing good ideas to flourish and come to fruition during this challenging period.
Another contributing factor has been the time crunch due to the urgency of managing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly compressed traditional development timelines in order to meet this time-sensitive demand. This, along with Singapore’s investments into research and development (R&D) and talent has significantly paid off to allow our island-nation to bring to market scalable innovations that can be deployed not just locally, but across the globe.
With Asia-Pacific expected to be home to 60% of the world’s population of over-65s by 2030, Singapore is well set to play the role of a regional medical hub.
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The Future of Healthcare Innovation post-COVID
COVID-19 has been a catalyst for innovation. The challenge now is to maintain this pace of innovation roll-out and change in a post COVID-19 world. The pandemic has definitely brought about an attitude of acceptance to change and to digital transformation in general, establishing a pathway to leapfrog innovation in the years to come.
We are also likely to see increased collaboration between different stakeholders and organizations to accelerate mutual innovation. With major organizations like GSK and Sanofi coming together to work on a vaccine for COVID-19, the willingness to collaborate not only from traditional pharmaceuticals, but from academia or independent research agencies is likely to continue into the future.
Though Singapore is a burgeoning environment for healthcare, it is undeniable that our small footprint makes it tough for innovation to be self-sustaining. Furthermore, healthcare innovation often requires collaboration across borders, especially by leveraging researchers and organizations based from healthcare hubs across the world. Global collaboration, dialogue, and the exchange of ideas are more essential now than before for healthcare leaders to evolve their delivery systems and organizations. This means that innovations in the near future will be developed with regional or global driving forces.
With organizations such as Lilly already using resource sharing to drive open innovation, as well as Pfizer’s Centers for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI) having progressed six developed drugs to the clinic as part of drug discovery efforts, we are already witnessing the benefits of healthcare innovation wrought from cross-border, inter-organizational collaborations.
A Data-Driven Future
Much of the value that can be derived from digitizing healthcare is enabled by the data that is created and exchanged. The inherent value from new innovative technologies comes from diagnostics that are derived from analyzing massive sets of data for use cases like predictive disease diagnosis to COVID-19 hotspot tracking.
The exchange of said data – not just between organizations but cross-border as well – poses a challenge, with Dr. Ho identifying data exchange as a key bottleneck hampering such collaborations. With sensitive and often confidential patient data at hand, it is essential that organizations are able to securely and efficiently share anonymized data without it being cost-prohibitive. This is increasingly important, especially as healthcare organizations adopt digitizing healthcare data – which swells data volume further and increases data transportation costs. Further complicating this are increasingly complex data compliance regulations, creating a complicated minefield that organizations have to tread in order to exchange data.
This need for secure and private exchange between different parties and organizations requires them to embrace interconnection – the private connectivity between organizations for the transfer of data. This ability to bypass the public Internet – with its widely known security woes – while having the support of a network-dense and interconnected neutral location for seamless data sharing and collaboration, is enabling competitors come together to collaborate to achieve a communal healthcare goal.
According to the Global Interconnection Index (GXI) Vol. 4, an annual market study published by Equinix, the Healthcare and Government sector is expected to grow significantly in the Asia-Pacific region with a 48% compound annual growth rate between 2019 and 2023. This demonstrates the rising demand for the private, secure exchange of data in the healthcare sector that has been fueled by the uptake of data-centric digital initiatives.
On the whole, Singapore’s effort in building out an environment for healthcare innovation has certainly put us in an advantageous position to not just tide through the pandemic, but open up the pathways to collaborations across organizations, borders and countries. In the near future, connectivity and collaboration are likely to be key to accelerating digital innovation in healthcare, cementing our position as a healthcare and R&D hub in not just Southeast Asia, but across the world.