EMPOWER-ing diabetes patients to lead healthier lifestyles

About 80 per cent of chronic diseases – such as diabetes and hypertension - are driven by lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. An innovative tool called the EMPOWER app, jointly developed by NUS School of Computing and SingHealth, is showing great potential in providing timely interventions for patients with diabetes, as well as those afflicted by other chronic diseases, to adopt healthy lifestyle choices and behaviours, and in turn, achieving better health outcomes. 

EMPOWER uses AI to analyse data collected from wearable devices such as smart watches to help users monitor their health-related habits and deliver timely in-app notifications or digital ‘nudges’, for example, to remind users to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and take medication as prescribed by the doctor. 

Rolled out in 2021 via a large clinical trial involving 1,000 diabetes patients, EMPOWER has demonstrated encouraging results, including increased physical activity, and a statistically significant improvement in HbA1c (glycosylated haemoglobin) levels after three months, with some patients having sustainable improvements after 12 months. 

EMPOWER was recently showcased at the SingHealth Duke-NUS Scientific Congress 2023, which was held on 22 and 23 September 2023. 

Professor Teo Hock Hai from NUS Department of Information Systems and Analytics and Principal Investigator of the project, said, “The time is now ripe for a healthcare model transformation. With the right policies in place, leveraging cutting-edge technology can empower individuals to actively manage their health by providing them access to personalised health and lifestyle information, smart monitoring tools, and communication platforms with healthcare providers. This approach ultimately fosters informed and shared decision-making and encourages proactive self-care, moving away from a physician-centric practice.” 

Associate Professor Low Lian Leng, Director of SingHealth Centre for Population Health Research and Implementation as well as Chief Medical Informatics Officer of SingHealh Regional Health System, said, “The EMPOWER app is akin to a healthcare companion for patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension The app’s AI capabilities helps patients better keep track of their health and lifestyle habits sends out personalised nudges based on their needs, and provides them with access to health advice. Smart technological tools like EMPOWER are important in enabling us to achieve a Healthier SG, where patients and the community can better manage their chronic conditions and take charge of their health.” 

A second trial involving 320 diabetes patients to evaluate advanced features and health coaching is ongoing. 

How does EMPOWER work? 

The EMPOWER app and platform, developed by Prof Teo and his team from the NUS School of Computing, employs cutting-edge technologies in data analytics and AI algorithms. 

By analysing user data using Artificial Neural Networks, EMPOWER can predict if users are achieving their daily physical activity goals, and trigger reminders when needed to encourage users to achieve their recommended level of physical activity.

EMPOWER also provides food analysis and recommendations based on photos uploaded by users. It leverages Convolutional Neural Networks for image recognition and image classification to identify the food types present in the photos to determine if users are eating healthily, and delivers personalised dietary recommendations accordingly. 

Equipped with an AI-powered chatbot and live chat functions, EMPOWER connects users to health coaches and healthcare professionals, depending on their needs. Users can clarify questions or receive advice on managing their chronic conditions. 

The EMPOWER app is currently available for download on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store for trial participants, and it will be progressively made available to the public.