As a tech executive working with clinical informatics for years, it’s exciting to see how the lessons learned in the energy sector can benefit the medical sector. Digital twins provide real-time reporting, support risk mitigation, and better decisions using relevant data.
Changes are already in progress. According to Gartner, “by 2025, 25% of Healthcare Delivery Organizations will include formalized digital twin initiatives within their digital transformation strategy.”
66% of healthcare executives expect to increase their investment in digital twins over the next three years. This is because digital twins improve healthcare organization performance, highlight areas for improvement, enable customization and personalization of medicines and diagnostics, and enable the development of new medicines and devices.
In this article, I will explore digital twin benefits and how to get started with digital twins.
How is Digital Twin Technology Used in Healthcare?
A digital twin is a copy of an organization’s tools, people, processes, and systems. Using computer models, healthcare can create digital representations of healthcare data, such as hospital environments, laboratory results, and human physiology. We use data covering individuals, population characteristics, and environments to construct virtual twins.
1. Digital Twin In a Healthcare Facility
Digital twin technology can be used to generate a digital twin of a hospital for various purposes.
- Reviewing operational strategies: managing staff, optimizing organizational strategies, and supporting decision-making around bed occupancy and medical device utilization. You can model complex systems to improve our understanding of their behavior and make better decisions about how best to manage them.
- Resource optimization: Using past and real-time data on hospital operations and environments to create a digital twin, hospital administrators can identify bed shortages, optimize staffing schedules, and assist in room operations. A study found that hospitals could reduce the time it takes to treat stroke patients by using digital twins to seamlessly coordinate multiple processes.
- Managing risks. Because digital twins are an opportunity to create a safe environment where you can test all possible changes and crises in a virtual setting.
2. Digital Twin In a Human Body
Digital Twin technology also allows a partial or full virtual copy of a human body. From a model of a single cell to an individual’s genetic makeup, digital twins support creating personalized medicine and treatment plans.
Digital twins allow the collection and usage of vital data, such as blood pressure, pulse, oxygen levels, and movement levels. Using remote patient monitoring helps collect data to create a real-time model. (Here is my most recent Q&A about remote patient monitoring). By focusing on each individual separately, doctors could rely on a patient simulation to predict reactions for different treatments, which helps precision testing of thousands of treatments. This way, personalized medicine could enter a new era where patient care is informed by each person’s medical history and health risks. Yet, there are no digital twin applications for actual patients.
With advanced human body modeling, doctors discover the pathology before the disorders are evident, experiment with treatments, and improve surgery preparation.
3. Digital Twin In New Drug development
Pharmaceutical companies also benefit greatly from this technology.
Digital twins of drugs and chemical substances enable scientists to modify or redesign drugs considering particle size and composition characteristics to improve delivery efficiency.
Larger and deeper insights gained from people’s digital twins will be invaluable in developing new treatments, allowing them to be brought to market quickly while remaining safe and cost-effective.
While the technology is still in the early stages of development, another breakthrough in this technology could come through the development of personalized medicine. If we can develop medicines that are tailored to each individual, there is a possibility that medicine will make a big leap forward. For example, in oncology, drugs personalized to an individual’s genetic makeup can help alleviate some of the side effects associated with cancer treatment.
Digital twin technology can also increase screening prevalence, helping identify and treat medical problems before they require more intensive care, and reducing the need for invasive treatments like surgery or chemotherapy.
4. Digital Twin In the Development of New Devices
Digital twins can improve the design, development, testing, and monitoring of new drugs and medical devices because you get a real-time view of how it works, what it is connected to if it is a time for a repair, and so on.
Also, digital twins of a medical device allow testing and tweaking in a virtual environment before manufacturing. This significantly reduces potential failure costs and enhances the final product’s performance and safety.
How to Get Started with Digital Twins in Healthcare?
Digital twins are an ideal complement to agile methodology and can be used to support business outcomes in different types of healthcare organizations. We have to remember that the steps are going to be very different for every single case.
However, there are some things you can consider today to come closer to this goal.
1. Define Your Goal
Digital twins can help organizations achieve their business outcomes faster than before. They enable organizations to better understand how their assets work together so they can make better decisions about how to optimize performance and productivity. For example, an organization might want its digital twin to improve patient care by reducing waiting times for scheduled appointments or improving employee morale by reducing shift length.
2. See Where Your Organization Stands in Digital Maturity
Start with a baseline assessment of the current state of your technology infrastructure and capabilities. You need to understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in your IT environment — both technically and culturally. This will help you evaluate where you are now and where you want to be in the future.
3. Clean Up Your Data
The first step is understanding your available data and how it maps to other systems and processes. Beyond that, it’s crucial to know what data you don’t have — and why not. If you don’t know what information is missing, how will you ever know if your digital twin is complete?
Suppose your organization has multiple silos of data (e.g., financial information, clinical outcomes). In that case, you’ll need some way to connect these silos so they can speak seamlessly. That’s where data integration comes into play.
4. Develop a Roadmap for Change
The next step is to develop a strategic plan for digital transformation that aligns with your overall business goals. In other words, figure out what value you’re trying to create with your digital transformation efforts and how technology can help deliver it.
For example, consider how new technologies could support those initiatives if you want to improve patient engagement or offer better care coordination.
Or if improving patient experience is top of mind, then think about how virtual assistants might help streamline processes or even create new ways for patients to engage with their care teams (e.g., through voice-enabled apps).
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out.
Head of the Healthcare IT Practice at First Line Software
Anatoly has more than 30 years of technology, product development, and solutions delivery experience, including over 20 years in the Healthcare Industry. Anatoly resides in Boston, MA. He is an avid hiker and has reached numerous mountain tops in Europe, Eastern and Western United States, and Asia.