Piloting a sustainable community-care ecosystem of gamified digital health technologies to improve elderly mobility and well-being in Singapore

Role: Principal Investigator

Funding Agency: National Research Foundation, Singapore

Funding Quantum: SGD $249,665.26

Duration of Award: April 2022 to September 2023

What the project is about:

One of the criticisms of implementing health technologies (e.g., health apps, wearables, exergames) is that it widens health disparities between those with resources and those who don’t. This project – a collaboration between Nanyang Technological University and Singapore ETH Zurich Centre (SEC) – aims to pilot a small-scale, sustainable community-centric, and participatory digital health ecosystem in Singapore. We aim to empower communities and individuals, especially those from low-resourced settings, to take advantage of digital health technologies to improve their physical health and mental well-being.

We aim to build capacity among stakeholder organizations and individuals in the community and to leverage the use of gamified health apps and wearables to have a positive impact on well-being and physical mobility of elderly residents. At the end of the project, our existing and extensive stakeholders such as community centres, caregivers, health coaches and volunteers would be equipped to implement the use of exergames—video games that require physical exercise and movements—with wearables and health apps to motivate elderly residents to exercise, thereby improving mobility and their psychological and social well-being. They would also be trained to take advantage of the data generated from the wearables and health apps to examine the state of their mobility and learn how to improve it.

Our vision is to improve digital literacy, raise awareness regarding benefits of using digital health technologies (DHTs) and motivate a healthy lifestyle in a gamified and social manner among our stakeholders and the elderly. Successful completion of the project will bring us a step closer towards Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative to develop the ability to use technology safely and ensure equal access for all.

Gamification of Hand Rehabilitation Exercise with Wearable Data Gloves

Funding Agency: Singapore Health Technologies Consortium (HealthTEC) – National University of Singapore

Funding Quantum: SGD $50,000

Duration of Award: August 2021 to August 2022

What the project is about:

Physical hand rehabilitation incorporates physical exercises, which can be difficult and demotivating for patients. For some patients (particularly stroke patients), timely intervention is crucial in the recovery of patients, but low patient engagement and insufficient therapist provision (long waiting times) can delay or inhibit recovery. Singapore sees more than 8,000 cases of stroke a year, and as the population ages, the number is likely to increase.

Most of the existing solutions for upper extremity physical rehab lacks the motivational element to encourage patients to adhere to their rehab plans or are very bulky hardware with complex set-up. StretchSkin wearable gloves that can detect motion and gripping force using stretchable electronic sensors are highly usable and at an affordable price, easy to set-up and use at the clinic or at home. The StretchSkin gloves will be designed to communicate with a physical rehab gamification platform which was developed by CHESS, NTU.

This collaboration between NTU and StretchSkin would benefit stroke and less mobile patients by incorporating the use of motion and grip force detection in StretchSkin gloves in existing rehabilitation games, such as the Virtual Exercise Therapist System (VETS) platform developed by Centre for Healthy and Sustainable Cities (CHESS) at Nanyang Technological University. Currently, VETS focuses on whole body rehabilitation exercises and exergames (upper-limbs and lower-limbs) using Kinect Camera as input controller. As such, VETS could not serve patients that are immobile and/or bed-bound, and patients would only benefit using the system if they can bring themselves to the TV or projector screen and interact with the games. The integration of StretchSkin gloves into the existing VETS system would create a user-friendly and seamless rehabilitation experience by enabling immobile or bed-bound patients to engage in gamified rehabilitation.

Thus, the collaboration enhances the VETS system with more use-cases and expanding its target user groups. In addition, the collaboration also enhances the StretchSkin gloves system with more engaging ways to use for the elderly/patients. StretchSkin would create an additional line of product for StretchSkin to commercialise. As a licensee of VETS system, this would facilitate the sales of VETS as it would provide a competitive advantage by having wearables as an added peripheral for patients to interact with the rehab platform.

Examining health mobile apps and wearables use through the lenses of communication equality

Funding Agency: Ministry of Education Tier 1

Funding Quantum: SGD $50,000

Duration of Award: March 2021 to February 2024

What the project is about:

The proliferation of health apps and wearables have the potential to address some of the most pressing health challenges by empowering individuals to take ownership of their health through active health monitoring. However, scholars have highlighted that health apps and wearables may inadvertently widen health disparities as only the financially well-off are able to take advantage of these technologies for health. This study aims to examine factors and barriers associated with health apps and wearables use through the lenses of communication equality, with the aim of building a health app prototype that is usable and accessible to all Singaporeans.

These aims are achieved through four work packages (WPs) that integrates multi-methods, triangulating both quantitative and qualitative data. WP1 aims to review the general attitude toward health apps and wearables in (a) scholarly databases, (b) social media, and (c) traditional media (e.g., newspapers). WP2 examines the motivations and barriers, and the extent of health apps /wearables use in Singapore when compared to countries at the forefront of digital health revolution—namely the U.S. and China. WP3 will draw qualitative insights on best practices for equitable health apps/wearables design and implementation using in-depth interviews and focus groups with low-income groups, technology developers, and for-profit and non-profit organizations. Finally, WP4 would integrate all findings from WP1-3 to build a user-centered health app prototype for Singaporeans.

The findings from this study would create vital knowledge in key areas, such as benchmarking Singapore’s health apps/wearables use with U.S. and China and identifying motivations and barriers to health apps use. The success of this project would further catalyse research in equitable health apps/wearables in Singapore with the development of a health app prototype which is built with input of policy makers, developers, and users from the get-go.

Leveraging digital health technologies to understand the public health impact of COVID-19: Integrating data science with social science

Funding Agency: Start-Up Grant

Funding Quantum: SGD $50,000

Duration of Award: August 2022 to August 2023

What the project is about:

At the start of 2020, COVID-19 became the most urgent threat to global public health. In addition to the millions of lives claimed and the economic fallout, governments and public health agencies need to deal with the abuse and weaponization of digital health technologies—such as social media platforms—that were used to spread misinformation, as well as face public resistance in implementation of digital health solutions to curb COVID-19. This study aims to address two broad research questions in the use of digital health technologies within COVID19 context. First, it aims to examine what roles did digital health technologies play in promoting information, misinformation and disinformation on COVID-19. Second, it aims to examine the impact of exposure to information on COVID-19 and related topics on public knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. Finally, it aims to understand the underlying motivations and barriers of the public in adopting or resisting digital health technologies in combatting COVID19. The research questions would be addressed through a combination of traditional social scientific (e.g., in-depth interviews, surveys) and computational approaches (e.g., social media and smartphone mining, machine learning) via three distinct work packages.