Perhaps the term does not sound familiar. These are the so-called “digital twins” or digital twins in English, a technological approach that will become part of the future of all industries. The concept is precise, defining it as a virtual double of an object that exists in the real world; that is, a copy that will allow any situation to be analyzed in perspective and to be able to prevent or predict certain behaviors.
The idea was born in 2002 as a way of seeing the useful life of products such as space rockets or jet engines, and is currently applied to various disciplines. In Chile, the examples are mainly concentrated in mining and architecture. While mining supervisors can connect simultaneously and online to follow the progress of an excavation in Patagonia, the Chilean Chamber of Construction developed a “digital twin” of the city of Punta Arenas, a territorial viewer that helps the decision making in urban planning.
Digital twins emerge as an exponential leap for those who want to innovate without taking big risks and keeping everything under control. Considering that there was an explosive increase in technology during the pandemic, exploring different solutions to promote remote work in industries, it is not surprising that the digital twin is applied in Medicine, opening unique opportunities for the well-being of the population.
The change towards this technology is already in process. Gartner Inc, a US technology innovation consultancy, expects that by 2025, 25% of healthcare delivery organizations will include formalized digital twin initiatives within their digital transformation strategy. The focus will be on three areas: bed occupancy, medical device utilization, and patient simulations.
René Castillo Ibaceta, academic from the School of Digital Design and Creative Industries of the San Sebastián University (USS), explains how this technology is used today in developed countries, such as Singapore, for the health care of patients who may receive their diagnosis in the comfort of your home, monitoring your recovery from illness and your vital signs from your own digital twin.
Castillo explains that “through a digital twin it is possible to monitor the treatment of patients, reducing their hospital stay, reducing care costs and productivity in general. In addition, it allows the people themselves to be involved in their self-care. With this, a new version of a “hospital without beds” is born. That is, care can be scaled to thousands of patients without the need for them to attend a hospital. In conclusion, digitization tends to improve access to health.”
They work anchored to other advances, such as 5G mobile telephony, the Internet of Things or Big Data, which mobilizes the tool to be an intelligent space for medical specialists, allowing them to review the complete case of patients, with their historical file, reload radiographs in high quality, all in real time.
In the middle of the year, Siemens generated a digital twin of the heart of a man with heart problems. The copy acts with the same capacities of the patient. From there the risks are seen, and the twin heart is treated with Artificial Intelligence, to determine the foreseeable results in the short and long term.
“Thanks to digital twins, doctors will be able to simulate different scenarios before a complex surgical intervention. Through the design of digital interfaces, they will be able to have a virtual representation of their patient’s health status, their medical history, or an exact digital version of their heart with which they will be able to measure risks, carry out diagnoses or treatments without the need to attend a hospital”, highlights the USS academic.
More about training to create
Another recent success story is that of the company Allegheny Health Network, belonging to the University of Pittsburgh (United States), which began the application of digital twins to predict a patient’s response to certain anticancer drugs, with the aim of creating personalized care plans, which charts the use of innovation for different challenges.
Marlova Silva Brauer is the general director of Simulation and Innovation in Health at the USS, and although she considers the inclusion of virtual twins in the health of Chile and Latin America to be incipient, she sees in it an advance to reduce the impact of adverse events associated with Health.
“There is talk that the extraordinary expense for adverse events in medication amounts to 42 billion dollars a year,” indicates the USS specialist, who adds that these can be reduced with the inclusion of technological tools.
Silva affirms that in the last decade there has been significant progress in the computerization of health, but there is a lack of technological innovation at all levels, and he gives the example of primary care: “We still have a system that works with cards and hours that they must be requested in person, but we have made some progress. We have not yet developed projects that are oriented to this level of technology (virtual twins) where they model information to create innovations”.
Silva maintains that “if one talks about digital transformation, virtual twins will be a final step after optimizing basic services such as electronic medical records, improving service and generating much more efficient care.”
In his case, the technology of health has been seen mainly from clinical simulation to improve prevention and specialization of the health team. In the case of the USS, it has Clinical Simulation Hospitals in its four locations, with a level of technical resources superior to other university projects, both for its infrastructure and for the processes that can be carried out, which are part of what it has to learn a student in the undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education.
For his part, René Castillo posits that the next challenges to advancing access to health for a growing population lies in the interdisciplinary work of health professionals, engineering and creative industries. “The design of interfaces and new forms of human interaction have evolved and integrated new technologies such as artificial intelligence or big data that allow information to be modeled and transferred accurately to doctors and other health professionals located anywhere in the world who require make complex decisions”, he summarizes.
Thus, design, animation and applied engineering become important tools for the definitive arrival of digital twins in the country. It is not just an accompaniment, but the implementation of a friendly platform that is useful for the routine of each medical specialist. An advance linked to the fourth digital industrial revolution that the planet is experiencing in giant steps.
“The professionals that we train today at the USS School of Digital Design and Creative Industries will be relevant actors in this process of digital transformation and through their profession they will add value to society,” concludes Castillo.