Think Big, Start Small, Act Fast – MAJ (DR) Aaron Chua

Think Big, Start Small, Act Fast – MAJ (DR) Aaron Chua

Meet MAJ (DR) Aaron Chua, an RSAF Aviation Medical Officer, and winner of this year’s Public Service Transformation Exemplary Innovator Award. Here, he shares about his experience and motivation.

1.    Hi MAJ (Dr) Aaron Chua, before we commence the e-interview, do give us a quick introduction of yourself!

Hi, I am MAJ (Dr) Aaron Chua. Currently, I am holding the appointment of Head Plans and Training Branch in the Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) where I oversee the development of medical plans, equipment as well as training matters for the RSAF. Previously, I have also held the appointment of the Head of Medical Operations in RSAF’s Air Power Generation Command (APGC), where I ensured the effective delivery of healthcare and medical operations in the Air Bases’ Medical Centres. This includes leveraging technology and innovation to overcome challenges faced.

2.    Congratulations on winning the Public Service Transformation Exemplary Innovator Award! Can you tell us how do you feel about winning this award and is there anyone you would like to attribute your success to?

I am thankful that my efforts are recognised with this award, and I would like to give a shout-out to the SAF medical community of innovators whom I have worked together with and been inspired by, for their collective energy and enthusiasm in pushing the boundaries of innovation. My passion for innovation started since young, when I successfully “invented” an integrated broom-and-dustpan which won the top innovation award at my Secondary School’s Project Competition. I was also always excited by stories from my father, whose own journey working in PSA Corporation to transform our nation’s port operations inspired me tremendously.   

3.    We understand that you have always introduced innovative ways to enhance work efficiency. Can you share some of these examples with us?

This pandemic has brought about challenges to everyone. However, I have always held on to my belief and dare-to-do spirit. Coupled with my interest in innovation, I believe that I could help to improve the healthcare processes in the RSAF Medical Centres and also deliver technological solutions against COVID-19. One of the innovative projects I had worked on was the digital swab management system used at the Air Bases’ Medical Centres. This was a digital identity verification and labelling mobile application that aimed to digitalise the swab administration process to increase efficiency and reduce human error.

When COVID-19 first surfaced in early 2020, I worked with a team of developers to deploy a telemedicine platform that enabled SAF Healthcare Workers to conduct telemedicine consultations for frontline healthcare workers in the Community Recovery Facilities. This solution was developed to maximise efficiency and ensure safety of healthcare personnel, by reducing in-person consultations, especially with patients who are already in a stable condition. Telemedicine is a viable, safe, and efficient healthcare delivery tool in crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It also reduces waiting and commuting time, as patients are not required to be physically present during the consultation. 

In addition, as the lead for medical innovation in the RSAF, I brought together a dynamic team of medical innovation champions to form Team SiGMA, which stands for Sustaining Innovation Ground-up through Methodical Action. I am also involved as the MINDEF Digital Factory Product Lead working on the Soldier Health Mobile Healthcare Platform, and as a member of the SAF’s Medical Informatics Development Hub looking at the future of healthcare transformation in MINDEF/SAF.

MAJ(DR) Aaron Chua (right) with one of his team-mates.

4.    Wow! That is impressive! You mentioned that you have also consistently offered many fresh and creative ways to solve problems. Can you elaborate more?

Through close collaboration with patients, medical centre personnel and technology teams within and external to the SAF, we have worked on several products that helped to transform healthcare experiences in the Medical Centres, and developed new healthcare solutions to tackle the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 situation. Some of these solutions include:

(1)    the RSAF Digital Swab Management System;
(2)    Telemedicine for healthcare appointments via a secure mobile healthcare application, reducing the need to attend appointments in person at a medical centre; 
(3)    Mobile app with features including a repository of health information, quick access to contact number of the nearest medical centre, and pin-drop location options that enable a swifter and more efficient in-base medical response to the casualty at an identified location;
(4)    RSAF’s in-house Safe-Entry system for digital declaration and triaging for all patients visiting the Medical Centres to ensure that patients are accurately assessed for their risks before they are allowed entry. This is accompanied by a contactless infrared thermometer for temperature-taking, which reduces the medical manpower required for patient triaging. 

MAJ(DR) Aaron Chua (left) along with his team of medical innovation champions.

5.    This is so amazing! I am definitely inspired by your dare-to-do spirit! I have also heard that you were heavily involved in the operationalisation of the pandemic-ready Tengah Air Base Medical Centre. Can you tell us more about that?

In Feb 2020, I worked closely with the Medical Centre personnel and DSTA to employ design thinking methodology in the design and set-up of the new Tengah Air Base Medical Centre to deliver better healthcare processes. This includes configurable spaces within the medical centre to adapt to the different medical contingency requirements, and a redesign of the patient’s journey in the medical centre that was more intuitive and pleasant. The forward-thinking design prepared us for COVID-19, as we were able to quickly transform and configure the space to support pandemic-ready workflows, such as an outdoor consultation and swabbing area and an outward facing dispensary for patients to collect medications. With a pandemic-ready system in place, this enabled the smooth transition from the old to the new Medical Centre amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which was officially opened on 4 Nov 2020.

The new Tengah Air Base Medical Centre

Outdoor pandemic management area at Tengah Air Base Medical Centre

The outward facing dispensary at Tengah Air Base Medical Centre

6.    Apart from being innovative, we understand that you have also enabled many others to be innovative in their area of work. Can you share more?

As mentioned earlier, I lead Team SiGMA, which is essentially an RSAF medical innovation team comprising regular medical personnel and Full-Time National Servicemen medics. Here, we generate new ideas and proliferate good innovation. Through brainstorming and the cross-sharing of ideas, newer innovative solutions were developed, conceptualised and implemented.

When it comes to innovation, I have always adopted the strategy of thinking big, starting small but acting fast. As such, I have actively mobilised the support in terms of resources and policy enablement from HQ entities such as AFMS, HQ APGC and HQ Medical Corps. Together, we enable ground medical personnel to embark on their medical innovation projects undeterred. I am proud to share that some of the projects that achieved success through this approach include the implementation of QR-Codes in Medical Centres for medical feedback, digitalisation of pen-and-paper medical administration processes, digital entry declaration, and the creation of a One-email address shared folder to every Air Base Medical Centre for patient queries to be easily directed to the right personnel within the medical centre. 

MAJ(DR) Aaron Chua (left) giving a briefing on one of his innovation ideas

7.    With so many of your innovation projects in place, I am sure it has positively impacted many. Can you highlight and elaborate on some of these successes?

With the telemedicine platform implemented, a total of approximately 500 clinical consultations via telemedicine were conducted, with zero safety incidents reported. This also led to a reduction in the time spent for our medical personnel to don Personal Protective Equipment and a 30% reduction in manpower required for medical officers.

The implementation of a digital declaration and triaging processes across RSAF Medical Centres also reduced triaging personnel requirements by 50% at each centre, and it is estimated that with an AI-enabled tele-triaging system currently in a Proof-of-Concept phase, such tele-triaging process could generate a year-on-year savings of up to 29,700 man-hours or approximately $1 million cost-savings for the SAF.

8.    Finally, do you have any parting advice for our readers, especially those who aspire to innovate?

Anyone and everyone can innovate! I think that it is important to join a community of innovators, be open to learning from others, and even if you may have limited technical and software capabilities just like myself, bring to the table your energy and enthusiasm for innovation and transformation. 😊