Jan Henrik Ardenkjær-Larsen, institutdirektør DTU Sundhedsteknologi. Foto: DTU

Higher pace of technological healthcare development needed

Wednesday 23 Feb 22
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Contact

Jan Henrik Ardenkjær-Larsen
Head of Department, Professor
DTU Health Tech
+45 45 25 57 57

See the op-ed in Altinget (in Danish):

DTU: Sundhedsvæsenets teknologiudvikling skal op i tempo

Op-ed by Jan Ardenkjær-Larsen, head of DTU Health Tech. Published in the Danish political media Altinget 21 February 2022.

The Danish health service needs to accelerate innovation and the introduction of new technology. At the beginning of 2022, many patients are finding that their operations are being cancelled due to the corona pandemic and a shortage of nurses. However, even when the current crisis is over, new challenges await in the form of a growing number of elderly people in the population and more citizens with multiple chronic conditions. Public health spending has increased by 69 per cent since 2000 in real terms, and health technology is needed to deliver quality and to free up resources.

 

Technology is not the solution to all the problems in the health service. It is imperative that the technology focuses on the patient and the healthcare professionals, and takes into account the users’ perspectives and daily life in the health service or in the hospitals’ clinical departments. This is necessary so that the right technology is designed that can solve real problems, and broad collaboration is therefore needed between researchers at the universities, doctors at the hospitals, patients and patient organisations and businesses.

 

In the current corona pandemic, researchers from DTU are part of a collaboration showing new digital pathways for improving how patients admitted to ICUs are monitored. As part of the WARD project, which is a collaboration between Bispebjerg Hospital and DTU, mathematical logarithms are being used to monitor oxygen robots, with the result that nurses are not required for monitoring tasks and thereby free to perform other tasks. The project should also shorten the patient’s length of stay, and in the long term make it possible for the patient to be discharged earlier while continuing to be monitored.

 

The WARD system is one of several examples of artificial intelligence (AI), and digitalization is being used for diagnostic and treatment tasks. In the Capital Region of Denmark, image technology and AI are currently being used to analyse CT and MRI scan images of damage resulting from blood clots, and emergency services are using AI and speech recognition to identify situations involving cardiac arrest. In 84 per cent of emergency calls about cardiac arrest, the solution can confirm cases of cardiac arrest, which is faster and more accurate than healthcare professionals, who correctly identify 73 per cent of cardiac arrest cases on average. New large projects are in the pipeline, such as in the Capital Region of Denmark, where AI will be used to assess mammograms to detect breast cancer.

 

If we are to strengthen technological innovation in the healthcare sector, then more cooperation is needed between technology and natural science and the health sciences. And it goes both ways. As engineers, we need to know about daily issues at the hospitals and enter into a discussion with doctors if we are to provide solutions for the health service and help to quality assure how they are run. Similarly, doctors need to know about the technological possibilities for being able to demand innovation and technological development from universities and companies.

 

It is at the interface between university research and daily hospital life and in collaboration with private businesses that innovation and technological development happens. Hospitals have been very good at making the most of academic know-how by plugging into health science research. Hospital researchers are also employed at DTU and contribute to the teaching, and I think we need to see much more of this within the technical-scientific area. This will be beneficial for patients, DTU, and for the participating hospitals.

 

In order to strengthen health research and innovation in collaboration with hospitals, businesses, and engineers, in 2019 DTU established a new Department of Health Technology—DTU Health Tech. The department is part of DTU’s strategic development of the life sciences, which today accounts for a third of DTU’s scientific publications.

 

Today, DTU collaborates extensively with many hospitals and companies. Most recently, we have started collaborating with the Capital Region of Denmark and Region Zealand to create shared positions, where either technical-scientific professionals from a hospital are employed at DTU, or where associate professors and professors from DTU spend their days at a hospital. At the moment, there are a handful of these shared posts, but we would like to see ten times as many in order to accelerate the development of new health technology.

 

The digitalization of the health service is all about life and quality of life. It is about the regions needing to offer new treatment options and technology at an ever-increasing pace. Because we obviously want to introduce new treatments if they can cure or improve patients’ quality of life. However, to be able to afford it all, we must work in smarter ways, and let technology perform more work for us in the health system.

 

This applies not only in hospitals, but also in our own homes. Patients will to a far greater extent be diagnosed, treated, and rehabilitated at home using biomedical sensor technology, which today takes the shape of small, digital, connected (Internet-of-Things) devices. Google, Apple, and other major IT providers have already come a long way in the process. The development will fundamentally change and individualize treatments, ensure faster responses to changes in the patient’s condition, and minimize the number of patient transports

 

Universities and hospitals have an obligation to take advantage of the window of opportunity that this development represents. We have a position of strength with a well-functioning public health service, a strong medical industry, and health data which are the envy of the world. Let us strengthen our collaborative efforts which, in addition to doctors and engineers, also includes patients, nurses, IT programmers, private companies, and many others. Denmark can become a showcase and a hub for developing innovative health solutions that can be scaled and exported for the benefit of patients, the health service, and Danish companies.