The digital revolution in medicine is taking place right now. MEDICA 2017

The digital revolution in medicine is taking place right now

Cover photo: ©Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann

Izzy is your friend. She understands you and helps you to be prepared by keeping track of your menstrual cycle”: this is what you’ll find if you type “Izzyperiod” into the Facebook search box. It has already been shared over a thousand times and gleaned over 750 comments before the end of August. If Izzy was a person, this wouldn’t be out of the ordinary: but Izzy is, in fact, a chatbot.

Text-based systems like these, which anyone can have a “natural” conversation with online, are on the rise worldwide. They are tipped to have massive development potential in the healthcare system. The MEDICA HEALTH IT FORUM at the world’s leading medical trade fair, MEDICA 2017, taking place from 13 – 16 November in Düsseldorf with over 5,000 exhibitors, offers an exciting overview and perspective on the topics and trends that are set to shape the digitalisation of medicine. Artificial intelligence (AI), precision medicine, medical support via the internet which uses big data and participatory health as well as chatbots: this year offers a huge range of options at this long-established forum.

“We’re developing a female chatbot, based on Facebook Messenger. She’s called Izzy”, began Dr Hajnalka Hejja, a doctor and the founder and CEO of Smart Health UG aka MediLad. Hejja is one of the speakers at the MEDICA HEALTH IT FORUM. Her session is called “In case of discomfort, ask your chatbot: Intelligent robots and apps enter the healthcare ecosystem”. Izzy is a friendly voice for young women that want to learn more about reproductive health. She’s not for preventing pregnancies. Smart Health UG aka MediLad leaves that task to other service providers. Izzy’s primary application is predicting menstruation and ovulation. The difference between Izzy and apps is that Izzy does not require installation of an app or software and interacting with Izzy is thus completely different. This is because interaction takes place in the form of a conversation, between the user and the female chatbot (via Facebook Messenger). Only a little data needs to entered to determine the menstrual cycle with sufficient accuracy.

Research knowledge is brought to the patient quicker

Services like these are a component of the digitalisation craze in medicine, and the empowerment of patients that goes with it, as provided by implementation of IT in precision medicine, for example. This area also paves the way to the future. The Federal Minister for Research, Professor Johanna Wanka, recently stated that the government has provided a total of 700 million Euros for research in precision medicine in this legislative term. However, she also stated that there are still hurdles to be overcome in getting research knowledge to patients quickly. This is the main focus of Professor Erwin Böttinger’s research. The former Leader of the Berlin Institute of Health (BHI) has transferred to the Hasso-Plattner Institute (HPI) and is slated as a keynote speaker at the panel discussion “The future is digital: How data and analytics will transform the healthcare market (in the next 5 years)” at the MEDICA HEALTH IT FORUM on Monday 13 November. He doesn’t rule out the notion that the BHI and the HPI might cooperate on some projects in the future. At BHI, they’re focusing on advancing the development of clinical decision-making aids for implementation in real time at the point of care. This even includes activity in education, higher education and further training.

Precision medicine from the “Data Cloud”

Böttinger explained his path:

“Now, at HPI, I can drive precision medicine forward in a very focused way, by developing new digital solutions. That’s why I took on the position of Head of the Digital Health Center at the HPI”.

The aim of the work there is to develop a “health cloud”, a comprehensive, patient-controlled health data platform that can be accessed anywhere and empowers patients and supports healthcare facilities and staff in handling chronic illnesses and providing healthcare.

Patients and healthcare staff alike can thus open up completely new perspectives for themselves. The patient makes their data available. Data from clinical studies is readily available. An algorithm brings both data sets together and uses them to calculate whether the patient is eligible to take part in a study, and if they are then which one. Patients and doctors can benefit from research and science almost immediately. The informed patient and their doctor thus make a decision together on which therapy path should be taken, where applicable. Research is brought to patients very quickly, and the roll-out of this technology ensures that it is implemented as widely as possible: “We wanted this to be applied with as wide a scope as possible”, Böttinger said, explaining his ambitious aim. It doesn’t matter whether the healthcare entity is a regional group of care facilities, university clinics or private facilities. The main factor in making it a success is having regional partners from the various areas that want to develop solutions together. The organisation of the German healthcare system poses challenges to all stakeholders here. This is because transferring data between sectors is difficult in this country, and this has not changed – and it also makes it difficult to trace a patient’s progress and history, or even to present it properly.

Combining big data and AI saves lives

The empowerment of the patient is also one of xbirds’ objectives. The victor of the eHealth Venture Summit at last year’s MEDICA HEALTH IT FORUM has set itself a lofty goal: “By 2020, we want to have saved a million lives”. This objective should be achieved by using big data and artificial intelligence (AI). The app that they have developed collects all available data from smartphones or other end devices such as wearables, fitness trackers and smart watches. These data are combed through for situations which occur concomitantly with undesirable events, which have not actually occurred but which are statistically significant. In a nutshell: The reading and collection of vital function and movement data can be compared to parameters that are typical for the occurrence of certain incidents or symptoms and supply advice on whether the user of the app is at risk of a relapse or if their condition may get worse.

More concretely, this is already being examined in clinical trials to check that this concept is reliable for diabetics. Continuous monitoring of various data and coordinates creates an overview of the patient’s normal daily routine, and automatically finds all of the factors that have a higher probability of occurring in conjunction with hypoglycaemic events (i.e. long periods of sitting, falls). The user would then receive a notification for this, with a prompt to eat something or a warning to see a doctor immediately, for example. This, on the one hand, provides early detection of illness and on the other provides patients with a better understanding of the concomitant events that occur with their individual illness and enables them to improve their therapy and day-to-day dealings with their disease.

All information about the MEDICA HEALTH IT FORUM‘s programme and topics are available online at: www.medica-tradefair.com/mhif2