Knowing what patients need, clinicians can create innovative technology and devices to improve patient outcomes.
“It’s easy to come up with ideas. What’s harder is to have ideas that can translate into solutions to real problems,” said Dr Rena Dharmawan, a Senior Resident at SingHealth Residency’s General Surgery Programme, who, in her own start-up, is working on a safer and more effective device to reduce bleeding and pain for haemorrhoid (piles) patients. Dr Rena also co-founded Jaga-Me, an online platform that connects home-nursing care to families who need these services.
Dr Rena’s work in designing new devices and technologies that deliver better healthcare outcomes is what medical technology, or medtech for short, is all about. Medtech is a billion-dollar industry in Singapore and is part of the fast-growing biomedical sciences sector which includes medical devices, IT, biotechnology and new healthcare services.
“I enjoy being hands-on and being involved in the whole process of innovation. It was a natural extension for me to train in general surgery and start dabbling in medtech,” said Dr Rena, who attained a degree in biomedical engineering before she enrolled in Duke-NUS Medical School.  
“Not many clinicians I know are familiar with or involved in medtech, compared to basic science or clinical research which can be done in the lab or the clinics – domains close to a clinician’s work. But I can see that interest is slowly gaining in this area,” said Dr Rena.
Assoc Prof Henry Ho, Director, Medical Technology Office, SingHealth said, “Medtech innovation is a new and vibrant sector of clinical research. It is a very meaningful form of research because academia is not just about publications and presentations, but about the ability to bring an idea from conceptualisation to patent and ultimately to clinical application."
He continued, "Medtech innovation seeds new ideas and pushes clinical boundaries to provide safer and cheaper healthcare solutions."
For example, one of SGH’s current projects under the Departments of Renal Medicine and Vascular Surgery is the development of a device that will help improve vascular access. Vascular access is the insertion of a catheter into a blood vessel to allow blood to be drawn from or medication to be delivered to a patient's bloodstream over an extended period. The new device would benefit patients undergoing dialysis, and is currently undergoing clinical trials.
"Medtech innovation seeds new ideas and pushes clinical boundaries to provide safer and cheaper healthcare solutions."
- Assoc Prof Henry Ho, Director, Medical Technology Office, SingHealth
In another project, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s Department of Paediatric Anaesthesiology created a patch sensor to detect extravasation, or the accidental leakage of IV-infused medication in to the surrounding tissues. Severe extravasation, if left undetected, can lead to serious medical complications such as infection or compartment syndrome that may require surgical intervention.
Dr Rena further explained that clinician innovators know the needs and problems of patients first-hand. They function as catalysts in a team of engineers, regulators and entrepreneurs, who work together to develop and commercialise new medical technologies.

After the success of two start-ups, Dr Rena is keen to pursue more ideas in medtech after she completes her residency. In the meantime, she and the SingHealth Residency’s Residents’ Committee will be organising a Hackathon in 2017 to bring together doctors, nurses and allied health professionals to brainstorm and collaborate to solve healthcare challenges. Over the two-day event, participants will form teams to flesh out potential innovations and pitch them to investors. 
In fact, Jaga-Me, Dr Rena’s second start-up, originated from a Hackathon she took part in last year. She said, “A Hackathon is the best place to meet people who are willing to try something new. We hope to create a fun and laid-back atmosphere in the 2017 Hackathon, where ideas can flow freely and lead to new projects and ventures.”
Prof Ho revealed plans to involve more residents in medtech, “There will be more workshops to educate residents on the medtech innovation process, from prototyping, to patent and commercialisation. Residents can also work on medtech innovation projects  for their research year. In addition, MTO is currently working with SingHealth Residency on the possibility of creating a clinician-innovator track in the near future.”