Singapore AI startup partners cancer institute to help estimate treatment costs

Singapore healthtech startup Bot MD is collaborating with National University Cancer Institute (NCIS) to offer a platform that can estimate treatment costs for cancer patients. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), the application is touted to be able to identify the most cost-effective option by assessing drug strengths and suitable alternatives. 

Dubbed NCIS Chemotherapy Cost Calculator, the AI platform will help frontline healthcare professionals estimate out-of-pocket expenses patients have to set aside each month based on key factors, such as their prescribed cancer treatment, residency status, and eligibility for national subsidy schemes. 

Government subsidy programmes that have been integrated with the calculator include Ministry of Health’s cancer drug list, drug subsidy schemes on the Medication Assistance Fund and standard drugs list, as well as outpatient specialist subsidies.  

The calculator will be updated whenever there are new or revisions to schemes as well as institutional price revisions to ensure estimated costs are in line with the actual amount patients should expect to pay, said Bot MD and NCIS in a joint statement Friday. 

Bot MD developed the platform alongside the cancer institute’s frontline staff encompassing pharmacists, patient service associates, operations staff, medical social workers, and doctors. 

The calculator also can be tailored to meet specific needs of healthcare institutions, such as how they procure and administer cancer treatments. Powered by a Bot MD-proprietary algorithm designed to optimise the cost of treatment, the application identifies the most cost-effective combination of drug strengths needed to concoct doses specific to the cancer patient and alerts healthcare staff when a generic or biosimilar alternative is available. The latter refers to medicine that is similar to the structure and function of a biologic drug, which is used the treatment of cancer. 

Users of the NCIS Chemotherapy Cost Calculator will need to input information such as the patient’s chemotherapy regimen, height, and weight, and select options from dropdown menus that include the patient’s residency status, monthly household income, and subsidy status. 

The application then computes the estimated out-of-pocket monthly cost for patients, generating an itemisation of drugs and services needed in the treatment. This aims to ease claims submission processes for patients. 

Most cancer treatments in Singapore comprise a combination of drugs that are specific to the patient, making financial management complex as manual calculations will be required to estimate treatment costs. Recent policy revisions from the Health Ministry also require out-of-pocket costs to include drug and clinical indications to assess patients’ eligible subsidies and claims. For instance, changes in August 2021 to Singapore’s MediShield Life reimbursement framework meant only a list of clinically proven and cost-effective cancer drug treatments would be covered. 

NCIS’ associate consultant for haematology-oncology department, Jen Wei Ying, noted that such policy changes pushed the need for a “simple and effective” tool that could help its patients grasp the cost of their treatment and be better able to make decisions on their healthcare. 

They could factor these costs into their budgets and seek help early if costs were prohibitive for them, Jen said. By simplifying the calculation process, the application also freed up time for frontline medical staff to focus on helping patients cope with their illness, she added.

Bot MD’s CEO and co-founder Dorothea Koh said: “Given the increasing complexities of healthcare financing and the fast-growing range of new possibilities in oncology treatments, I believe this tool will be useful not only for the public hospitals but potentially extend to the private hospitals and clinics as well as private insurance companies to help simplify the process of chemotherapy financial counselling in Singapore.”

Backed by startup accelerator Y-Combinator, Bot MD focuses on providing AI-powered applications that facilitate medical practitioners and currently are used by more than 18,000 clinicians from, amongst others, Changi General Hospital and National Kidney Transplant Institute. 


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