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An app to help nurses in CGH communicate in dialect

A new smartphone app will allow nurses at the Changi General Hospital to convey simple phrases and queries to their patients.

SINGAPORE: A new phone application to help staff communicate with patients who speak in Chinese dialects will be made available to all nurses in Changi General Hospital (CGH) on Nurses Day, which falls next Friday, Aug 1.

The iCOM app - the first local dialect smartphone app for use in hospital wards in Singapore - was designed by nurses and developed with external partners including IHiS ( Integrated Health Information Systems).

The app will be launched with the Cantonese module in its first phase. It will feature 100 of the most common Cantonese phrases specific to use in wards, such as instructions for medication, medical procedures and nursing advice.

The phrases will be output in audio format, too. For example, a nurse can choose a question or phrase such as "You are on feeds only", and the Cantonese translation will play. There will be accompanying visuals for some phrases.


A pilot study of the application in CGH's geriatric wards found that 97 per cent of nurses said they would continue to use the iCOM even after the pilot. Seven in 10 patients said they understood the instructions and phrases played.

The application was developed following a CGH study last year which found that many dialect-speaking elderly patients could not fully comprehend the nurses' instructions. Nurses have generally tried to cope with this challenge by seeking help from a colleague or using non-verbal methods, such as physical demonstrations or simple sign language. 

CHG staff nurse Sheree Ye, for example, has often had problems communicating with her elderly patients. But the 22-year old nurse's work has been made easier with the new smartphone application. "If I want to giving the patients medication or injections, they might resist me if they don’t understand me, or not follow my instructions correctly. With this application, it helps them to understand me better.”

CGH’s deputy director of nursing informatics Wong Kok Cheong said the nurses who used the app during the pilot study requested that it have more languages and more content.

The first iteration of the app is for Android phones. There are plans to develop an iOS platform for nurses using iPhones, CGH said. The application will also be expanded to other dialects such as Hokkien, Hakka and Hainanese.

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