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Can social networking cure health system?

Healthcare may not be the first thing one associates with social networking, but Sun Microsystems and Singapore's National Healthcare Group hope their latest effort will bridge the two.
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Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor on

Healthcare may not be the first thing one associates with social networking, but Sun Microsystems and Singapore's National Healthcare Group hope their latest effort will bridge the two.

Sun and the Singapore Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) recently kicked off the Java Jive Regional Challenge 2008 — a competition for developers from tertiary educational institutes in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand to build Web 2.0 mashups targeted at the healthcare industry.

Mashups combine data compiled from various sources into one integrated list on the Web.

This is the third year the competition is being held. Its previous installments took place within Singapore only and competitors then were allowed to choose the topics.

On why the healthcare industry was picked, Sun says healthcare is a topic close to many hearts.

Ong Chee Beng, managing director, Sun Microsystems Singapore, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia: "With the world's ageing population, healthcare will become increasingly of interest to the masses."

Dr Paul Wang, director of special projects at Singapore's National Healthcare Group, is one of the mentors of the Java Jive competition. He said the growing interest brings to light the need for applications which are able to engage the public.

"We have the technology and the interest, but not the applications," said Wang, adding that there is a lack of healthcare-related applications for patients — most developments in that space have been for healthcare professionals, he said.

"If patients can get involved with personal care, we can start moving into applications that help prevent illnesses," said Wang.

Wang sees the students as suitable candidates for developing such applications because their perspective lies outside that of the healthcare industry. "They are looking through the eyes of the patient, and they also get to test ideas out with family members," added Wang.

Sun's Ong said customer momentum represents a "significant shift in how new services are delivered" by vendors. The growing reliance on the Internet is another factor for customers to more likely seek answers out on their own first, rather than go to a professional, he said.

Wang said the shift toward social networking aspects in consumer IT is also a trend affecting the healthcare industry, where often hospital IT innovators have problems explaining the purpose of new applications to traditional practitioners who are accustomed to how things have been run.

Increasingly, healthcare IT will move toward a service oriented architecture (SOA) where a veritable "bento box" of applications will be commonplace, allowing doctors to mix and match applications to their needs, said Wang.

Besides Wang, the competition has two other mentors — one each from the Multimedia Development Corporation in Malaysia and the Thai Medical Informatics Association.

The competition's regional finals will be held on Jul 15 this year.

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