Digital twins tech is coming for healthcare. AI is helping it happen.
Let’s travel back in time. About 50 years ago
Oh, and let’s get 210,000 miles away from Earth while we’re at it.
That’s where the Apollo 13 astronauts were when their spacecraft suffered critical damage. In other words, not a great workday.
But Mission Control in Houston had a secret weapon: A series of next-level simulators they used to train their astronauts.
Racing against the clock, NASA quickly modified their high-fidelity simulators to the exact conditions of the real-life Apollo spacecraft, turning them into a digital twin.
With the help of this advanced technology, they worked out how to bring three American astronauts home—without trial-and-erroring on the live mission.
In some ways, digital twin technology is not new at all.
In other ways, it’s futuristic and still just out of reach. Especially when it comes to creating digital representations of a living, moving human body.
This health-focused application of digital twins—otherwise known as Human OS—has the potential to transform how we deliver medical care. And with today’s AI advancements, we’re closer than ever to using it.
Wait… what do we mean by “Human OS”? (And what we don’t.)
First, let’s get on the same page.
For the purposes of this discussion, we’re defining human OS and digital twins as: One-to-one digital representations of real-life humans, constructed from the data we collect and compile through medical and wellness devices.
And here’s what we don’t mean: Human OS as a metaphor for psychology, sociology, human history, etc.
We’re also going beyond personalization here. Lots of digital health apps and provider-facing EHRs already offer custom user experiences and comprehensive health snapshots.
Human OS goes a step further.
This kind of medical tool is becoming more possible with the rise of AI-driven precision medicine and HIE-enabled patient monitoring.
Outside of healthcare, companies from Microsoft to McLaren (yes, the sports car) are using AI to create digital twins of their products. Shanghai has launched a digital twin of the city by mapping physical IoT devices using machine learning.
Healthcare is just begging to take advantage of this tech next.
The clinical case for AI-driven Human OS
Here’s the thing. We’re talking about a lot of potential here. But digital twin tech is still under-explored in healthcare.
Likely healthcare applications of digital twins:
Drug and device testing can take after Siemens and GE to make leaps and bounds in their product development before getting to the in vivo stage.
Digital twin analysis of human movement to help providers more precisely intervene and drive better outcomes. We’re talking injury prevention for pro athletes and senior citizens.
Addressing strained healthcare resources by using AI-driven digital twin technology as a middleman. Providers shouldn’t have to split themselves into a million pieces to provide high-quality, attentive care to each patient.
The thorny ethics of Human OS
Of course, the level of data collection and storage that will bring us to digital twin tech raises many privacy and security questions.
And there’s another hurdle: To be able to gather and deploy that data, people have to be willing to participate.
This is one of the questions lawmakers have been considering when working on EHR adoption. How consent choice architecture is designed can make a difference.
The lesson we can take here? How we ask and inform patients about data collection (and what it’ll be used for) matters.
After all, patients are stakeholders in this technology! If they understand how it can help them (and what myths are untrue), they’ll be more eager to contribute to this meaningful work.
That’s why our industry must also confront media literacy around AI and simulations.
Final thoughts from HAN
We need more data—and more diverse data—to make this technology effective. So, we need to get as many patients and stakeholders on board as we can.
Awareness and understanding is the key.
We need to help more people see the practical health benefits. We love HBO shows as much as the next guy, but patients need to understand that this technology isn’t something sinister, straight out of Westworld.
But what about you, reader?
Does digital twin tech make you excited about healthcare’s future? Or is it more so giving you dystopian vibes? Reply back and let us know!