S'pore unveils Web app to monitor arthritis

update Government builds Web-based application, also accessible via mobile browsers, to help rheumatoid arthritis patients track severity of their condition via easy-to-digest graphs or tables.
Written by Tyler Thia, Contributor

update SINGAPORE--The government has developed its first Web-based application, which can be accessed via mobile browsers, to help people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis monitor their condition.

Patients can input their data via a list of questions which will calculate the severity of their condition and present them in graphs or tables for easy reference, according to officials during the launch of the new app here Tuesday.

Through answering the list of 12 questions online through their PCs or smartphones , patients can now track their condition and medical scores, coined RAPID3, electronically. They previously had to fill these forms up each time they visited their doctors, officials noted.

Developed by Integrated Health Information Systems (IHIS) for Singapore Health Services (SingHealth) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH), the app can also record information related to the patient's affected joints, medication and lab results. IHIS is the IT arm of the country's Ministry of Health. SingHealth is a local healthcare group that operates three hospitals, including SGH, five specialty centers and nine polyclinics.

Seeking patient collaboration
The app is the first of its kind to launch in Singapore and Asia-Pacific, Benedict Tan, SingHealth's Group CIO, said at the press briefing.

IHIS CEO Chong Yoke Sin clarified that although other "information apps" are already available, the new app is the first to involve patient monitoring and is part of the ministry's telehealth initiative.

"A large part of chronic disease management now involves patient collaboration to manage their condition, which leads to better management and patients being able to go about their normal lifestyle," Chong added. "As a result, what you see now is the start of a whole new space of telehealth applications, which we will be launching."

Tan confirmed that SingHealth will be launching similar apps for other chronic diseases within this financial year. "We are currently working with closely with IHIS to create new health diary apps for the management of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and renal disease for patients on peritoneal dialysis or who have undergone transplants," he said, adding that by providing these apps, patients can now play a more active role in managing their condition.

Rheumatoid arthritis patient, Randall Tan, welcomed the new app. He noted that the software helped him note down his conditions as they appear and present a clearer picture of the symptoms to the doctor.

"Now, I can quickly take note of each flare-up such as the time and date of the swelling [of the joints]. It gives me a chance to record and has become a diary of sorts," Tan said, adding that the app's user interface is easy to use. The local television host, who has been battling the disease since 2004, was one of 40 patients at SGH who were involved in the pilot test for the app. 

Web development less time-consuming
Quizzed on the time needed to develop the app, IHIS' systems specialist Michael Bien said his team took a month to build the software. He explained that since this was the first app the team was tasked to design, they wanted an easier development path that they could have total control over.

"If we were to design a native app for [Apple's] iOS, then we'll have to create Android and BlackBerry versions, too. Besides, there are many technical difficulties," Bien explained.

With everything "in their server", the team had control over the entire process from development and production, to deployment to users. Not needing to subject the software tool to Cupertino's vetting of apps saved time for the team, too, he added.

"It is naturally cheaper and faster to design a Web app, and [requires] less development time. For the iOS, once you submit the app to Apple, it takes time to be approved and there's a possibility it may be denied," he said.

When questioned if the Web app will be a "prototype" for future developments, Alexander Lau, principal systems specialist at IHIS, revealed that the rheumatoid arthritis app is a start for the team and once they are comfortable with the app development process, they might "discard" Web apps and focus on native ones instead.


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