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    Sep 29, 2015

    Healthcare data mining can help patients

    THE healthcare sector is sitting on a wealth of data that it is learning to mine to better match patient needs and services.

    For example, the National Healthcare Group (NHG) knows that 28 out of 100 polyclinic patients with no chronic ailments will develop one or more chronic problems within six years, if nothing is done to prevent this.

    This data comes from a cohort of 220,000 patients at three of its polyclinics, which it has been tracking since 2008. It showed the number of visits by that group of patients fell over the years.

    An NHG spokesman said the drop is likely as it has engaged partners to provide patients with more holistic care, including giving public education, screening for chronic ailments, and working with general practitioners for patients with the Community Health Assist Scheme card so they do not always need to go to a polyclinic.

    Philip Choo, NHG's chief executive officer, said data has "the potential to revolutionise healthcare" as it helps providers better understand the causes of chronic diseases and helps patients prevent or control them.

    He said: "NHG holds strongly that chronic diseases can be reduced or delayed on its onset, with early interventions and behavioural changes."

    It also has data from its almost 800,000 polyclinic patients which shows how different patients consume its services.

    The biggest users are infants up to the age of one year, as many go to polyclinics for their vaccinations. They make 5.6 visits a year.

    Those aged 65 years and above visit polyclinics more than five times a year - or twice as often as young adults.

    Such data was used in the planning of Pioneer Polyclinic, which will open in 2017. Aside from the current demand from the region, it had to take the ageing population into account, as someone aged 65 years and older would go to a polyclinic twice as often as a young adult.

    It also mapped out the impact of Pioneer on the nearest polyclinics.

    Teow Kiok Liang, one of NHG's 21 specialists in its Health Services & Outcomes Research, said while proximity is one of the biggest factors in deciding which polyclinic a patient uses, other factors also have to be taken into account.

    These include ease of travel to the polyclinic, and sometimes, a patient's wish to stay with the same doctor.

    The team also looked at data from Tan Tock Seng Hospital to identify where patients who are hospitalised at least three times a year come from.

    NHG is then able to provide this information to voluntary welfare organisations, which are able to focus more on areas of need.

    Said Prof Choo: "The ability to connect multiple data sources becomes increasingly more critical to ensure the right information gets to the right care provider at the right time."

    With greater access to care in their neighbourhood, some of these patients are able to keep their conditions stable, thus reducing their need to rush to the hospital for treatment.