Medicine goes digital: The promise of Digital Health for investors

Digital technologies are bound to transform the future of medicine. Even today, innovative solutions and services are radically changing approaches to providing medical care and its quality. Investors, too, seem to have faith in digital technologies in healthcare – according to McKinsey estimates, investment in Digital Health will grow by over 70%, to $600 bln by 2024. The 2nd International Summit on Digital Medicine and Information Technologies in Healthcare (DigitalITmed) focused on the prospects for Digital Health investment in Russia, as well as the most popular technological solutions and approaches in this industry.

The 2nd International Summit on Digital Medicine and Information Technologies in Healthcare (DigitalITmed). Photo: Press Center of the summit

Robot, speak!

Dialogue management technologies enjoy the greatest demand in healthcare today; the industry is increasingly using voice robot-enabled solutions, the summit participants noted. Voice robots help automate call centers, where operators handle over 5,000 patient calls per month. Systems using speech recognition and synthesis facilitate call routing and reduce the waiting time, taking part of the load off the operators.

According to Yevgeny Shlyakhto, General Director of the Almazov National Medical Research Center, the team has developed a voice robot at the Asterisk contact center, a joint project with the Speech Technology Center (STC). The system performs routine operations such as appointment confirmation calls.

However, voice robots also sound promising for more complex tasks, possibly certain steps in the diagnostics process. The Almazov Center is currently developing a robot capable of filling out digital medical records and proposing further examination tactics.

Artificial neural networks for diagnosis of diseases

AI-enabled systems or machine learning neural networks can help increase the accuracy of diagnosing and recognition of pathologies on X-ray and MRI/CT images. Specialists from the Moscow Center for Diagnostics and Telemedicine shared their experience of using them in radiation diagnostics at the summit.

Neural networks help detect signs of various diseases in images, from lung cancer, COVID-19, and osteoporosis to flat feet (15 categories) in Moscow medical centers. More than 7 million images have been analyzed using such algorithms in just two years, commented Yury Vasiliev, Director of the Center for Diagnostics and Telemedicine and Moscow’s chief freelance specialist in radiation and instrumental diagnostics.

The combined use of neural networks and telemedicine solutions has proved especially effective. With telemedicine, experienced radiologists can consult on behalf of several medical centers, ensuring a higher level of diagnosis.

Digital twins transform cancer care

Experts hope that technology should finally make a breakthrough in the treatment of cancer. For example, the use of digital twins, or digital models of the patient, can help select the most effective drug therapy tailored to a specific patient by monitoring their response and adjusting the treatment accordingly.

The Digital Biodesign and Personalized Healthcare consortium, one of the ten world-class research centers now being established in Russia, is working on a technological platform for creating such twins. According to Director of the Health Informatics Lab at the Novgorod State University Vladimir Makarov, digital twins focus on three potential health risks: lung cancer, kidney cancer and colorectal cancer. The consortium’s latest developments will be implemented at an oncology center in Veliky Novgorod. He also said that the Novgorod University scientists in the consortium are also working on a digital model of lung cancer.

Sandbox technologies

Digital or technological sandboxes remain one way to expedite technology implementation in different sectors of the economy. The same approach can be used in healthcare, according to Sergei Lysenkov, Director of the Medical Center of the VSK Insurance House. Regulatory barriers often stall implementation of innovative technology in medicine, and experimental legal regimes in digital sandboxes can help. This includes wider use of telemedicine such as distance patient monitoring, and development of a personal medical assistant system. It helps make healthcare more accessible and improve the quality of healthcare under compulsory and voluntary insurance plans. It also boosts the development of preventive medicine.

It is also possible to build an integrated patient database covering different healthcare providers, in the digital sandbox. Access to comprehensive data helps develop a more precise and holistic treatment strategy.

Investment niche

When it comes to investment appeal, there is an entire stack of technologies in digital healthcare along with solutions and services based on these technologies. Investment in digital healthcare remains attractive due to a relatively low entry threshold, especially compared to investment in the development of new medical devices and even more so medication, notes Senior Vice President for Innovation at the Skolkovo Foundation Kirill Kayem.

Telemedicine solutions using the capabilities of the Internet of Things show good prospects. In the future, they will allow monitoring patients’ health and physiological parameters remotely. Behavioral apps focusing on behavioral responses is a niche in itself. This type of apps help track how precisely patients follow doctor recommendations. There are also apps supporting patients’ mental health and some geared towards predictive medicine.

Another area is clinical decision support systems using Artificial Intelligence. This segment is very competitive already, collaboration with a healthcare facility remaining an important factor of success. This sector will see a truly big breakthrough at the next stage of the AI development, when universal artificial intelligence is created.

By Olga Blinova

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