By Dr Nik Nailah Abdullah
HEART failure accounts for one in 10 acute medical admissions in Malaysian hospitals. It is one of the most common reasons for hospital readmission cases. The problem lies in most heart failure patients being unable to recognise early warning symptoms of worsening heart condition, mainly if the symptoms are atypical.
This is due to several reasons – limited communication with healthcare providers, lack of correct information, memory difficulty, complex medical regimen, and a lack of compelling symptoms. Heart failure patients in rural areas are also unable to access hospital-based services easily due to their remote location.
To enable the early prediction of worsening heart failure, Monash University Malaysia collaborated with several Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) hospitals to develop ReportCare, a heart failure patient management app for heart failure patients with implantable devices.
The app uses a machine-learning algorithm – the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed. It will be able to capture real-time data trends, analyse and communicate it directly to cardiac care clinics on time.
Users can access ReportCare without a mobile Internet connection. It allows patients, especially from rural areas, to report their health conditions using a virtual assistant and be alerted of early worsening status. This feature enables immediate intervention to take place remotely – before their next scheduled visit or to have a remote monitoring system installed in their homes.
Using technology to address gaps in healthcare
In the future, software engineering will become more vital in the education and healthcare sectors. People have been talking about teleconsultation for many years but are only taking it seriously now because of the pandemic. Same goes for online learning. We are going to see a greater presence of software engineering in the market.
In addition, Malaysia has tremendous untapped potential for healthcare technology as the market is still nascent compared to developed markets such as Singapore and Australia.
These apps being developed under the Software Engineering Industry Experience Studio Project, a new unit offered in the Bachelor of Software Engineering (Honours).
The Chemocare app aims to help cancer patients with monitoring and reporting their chemotherapy side-effects so that they know when to see a clinician.
Students routinely communicated with an oncologist from a private hospital who acted as an independent advisor and also interacted with cancer patients from public hospitals, as they worked on developing the app to ensure that the user interface would be relevant to their needs.
They also worked together with researchers from the the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf to create a mobile app, Deaf in Touch Everywhere (DITETM).
DITETM provides deaf individuals with access to a Sign Language Interpreter by appointment or on-demand and have their health consultation translated via video conferencing.
Meanwhile, the TakeMe app connects older people who have low to moderate cognitive frailty with volunteers who can help transport them, thus improving their mobility.
This project is very much aligned with Monash’s value of inclusivity as students must understand groups of people that they do not normally think about.
Gaining real-world experience
Communication and collaboration are some of the key skills that students learned via the project that will prove useful in their future. Students liaised with real clients to develop something impactful – apps that met real needs. As there is a mix of academic research and software development, students were exposed to both the world of research and digital healthcare
For the project, students had access to Amazon Web Services (AWS), an on-demand cloud computing platform, which helped them to fast track their app development. Students were then able to focus on their proof of concept without getting caught up in building an app from scratch – which was the experience of their seniors.
The students not only benefited from the exposure to industry-standard tools like AWS but were also able to learn from the company’s experts.
Meanwhile, depending on the apps’ technical difficulty, the development of longer-term apps would be continued by the next batch of students and interested clients, as certain apps required more investment and more rigorous clinical testing.
Stepping outside the box
As the project was collaborative, students benefited from the opportunity to learn from industry experts in software development and digital healthcare through online ‘fireside chats’ or informal sharing sessions.
Students were not brave enough to step outside the box and would often question their capabilities and I wanted to encourage them to explore more as they were so used to only clearly defined problems.
Thereafter a discussion, I noticed that they began to be more confident that new ideas were possible and doable. Some even told me they wanted to pursue research once the project is done.
I want my students to know that it’s okay to fail because without trying, you will miss out on the process of learning new possibilities. Thus, students can use this project as a place to prepare for the real world. – Feb 5, 2021
Dr Nik Nailah Abdullah is a lecturer from the School of Information Technology, Monash University Malaysia.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.