The Straits Times: Health tech start-ups sprout up to aid S’pore’s ageing population

The Straits Times

Published: 21 November 2022

SINGAPORE – As more elderly people find it challenging to travel in person to clinics and hospitals, local start-ups are finding business opportunities in providing telemedicine and tapping tech in care management and home monitoring.


Caregiving start-up Homage, for instance, facilitates home visits through a matching engine. This helps clients, such as the elderly and people with chronic conditions, find healthcare professionals who best suit their needs.


The firm, started by Singaporean Gillian Tee in 2016, also has a digital platform to help clients with care management, which includes tasks like providing care visit summaries and scheduling payments.


Such health tech start-ups are sprouting up in Singapore, developing apps and platforms that do everything from digital rehabilitation to dementia intervention. The tech not only saves patients trips to clinics and hospitals, but also helps save on manpower and cut waiting times.


There has been consistent growth in the health tech scene through the years, but the Covid-19 pandemic has sped up the digital shift and shone the spotlight on the need for digital solutions like telehealth, said Ms Florence Neo, chief executive of Action Community for Entrepreneurship (Ace).


In 2022, about two in 10 citizens, or 18.4 per cent, are aged 65 and above, double the one in 10 a decade ago. By 2030, around one in four citizens, or 23.8 per cent, will be aged 65 and above, according to the annual Population In Brief report released on Sept 27.


Video consultations may be beneficial to this demographic, while Bluetooth technology on wearable devices lets patients report their medical information through remote home monitoring.


There are now more than 300 medtech companies in Singapore. They include those focused on areas such as prevention, diagnosis and treatment, said Ms Neo from Ace, a national private sector-led organisation to drive entrepreneurship and innovation here. It was launched in 2003 by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.


One of them is Neuroglee Therapeutics, a start-up developing digital therapy for people with neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.


Mr Aniket Singh Rajput, 27, quit his PhD in neuroscience at Nanyang Technological University during his first year to start Neuroglee at the end of 2020.


It offers personalised intervention programmes for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Patients can access the solutions from home on a tablet, and use a wearable device to track biomarkers like finger-tapping speeds and eye movements to measure their cognitive condition.


Some of the solutions include games for cognitive memory, mind and body exercises for wellness, and reminiscence therapy, which uses the senses like sight, sound, touch and taste to help seniors recall events, people and places from the past.


Neuroglee is currently offering its services to hospitals in the United States, but is aiming to expand to hospitals in Singapore by 2023.


Start-up Rootally AI has a mobile application that uses deep learning algorithms to measure if patients are correctly performing exercise poses under therapy. Patients who undergo such therapy may include those who are recovering from a knee replacement operation or have a shoulder injury.


The app sends patients the rehabilitation plans that were drawn up by the physiotherapist. Patients can then perform their therapy sessions at home with artificial intelligence (AI) virtual trainers providing them with real-time feedback.


Chief executive Amit Jindal, 23, found that his grandmother had faced issues setting up therapy sessions when she was going through physiotherapy. He set up Rootally AI in 2020 with a team of three people.


Ms Farah Nadya, 34, chief product officer at Rootally AI, said: “The waiting time at clinics can sometimes be very long. We hope our app can free up appointment slots for those who need them more urgently.”


Their app is under clinical trial with two hospitals. They will be expanding their trial to one more hospital in 2023. The mobile app will then be rolled out at outpatient clinics in 2023 for knee replacement and shoulder pain.


Similarly, Ms Tee, 40, hopes her firm can complement hospital care. “We hope that our company can help to ease the pressure on the public health system by bringing care from hospital to home.” Ms Tee used to work in different jobs in machine learning, consulting and tech.


Homage currently operates in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia and has more than 15,000 caregivers across the countries, with more than 10,000 based locally.


Healthcare expenditure in Singapore is expected to rise significantly going forward, said Ms Neo.


“We need to harness technology to address inefficiencies and pain points in the system, to bring about better patient experience and outcomes… Different inefficiencies exist in our healthcare systems, such as hiring and billing models. Start-ups looking to enter the market should be conscious of the pain points they are addressing,” she added.


Singapore’s robust start-up ecosystem gives start-ups access to public-private sector collaborations, government funding, academic expertise, existing AI expertise and infrastructure and a conducive business environment, said Ms Neo.


“All of these and the Republic’s rising status as a healthcare innovation hub offer start-ups the relevant resources and networks to scale in the region,” she added.


View the Straits Times article here

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