Digital Twins in Health and Wellbeing

Digital Twins in Health and Wellbeing

David Wortley
David Wortley
IORMA Health & Wellness Technology Centre (HWTC)

Digital twins have been used for modelling and simulations across many sectors for a number of years but the use of digital twins to represent the physical attributes of humans in health and well being is perceived as relatively new.
This article looks at the history of such digital humans for health and medicine applications and present some thoughts for the future.

The Role of the Video Games Industry
Today, we are very accustomed to seeing very realistic digital twin avatars with video games and movies but it may come as a surprise that the video games industry also pioneered the use of digital twins for health applications, primarily medical training.

Dying Dave by Trusim
“Dying Dave” by Trusim

In around 2008, a UK company called Trusim, a spin-off one of the world’s largest independent games development companies called Blitz Games, experimented with a medical 3D scanner to create a digital twin of one of its graphics designers. The project was called “Dying Dave” and it involved creating a simulation of the effect of a fatal gun wound on a human. The simulation linked medical data and physical appearance/behaviours to this realistic avatar to demonstrate what happens when someone dies from such a head wound. The video lasts 60 seconds and shows the digital twin changing colour, sweating, breathing rapidly and then dying.

This project proof of concept was then used in a serious game designed to train paramedics in dealing with casualties of a terrorist attack in a city centre. The simulation called “Triage Trainer” was used to validate the effectiveness of serious games for medical training.

This project was followed up with an even more ambitious serious games designed to train junior doctors on how to diagnose different medical conditions as they presented themselves in a wide range of individuals with different ages and ethnicities. Its aim was to be able to generate these different types of digital twin and apply these medical conditions for the doctors to experience.

“Patient Rescue” Digital Twins

Even by today’s standards these digital twins are quite realistic but the technology available in around 2009 meant that each animation often required hours of processing time, making it impractical for real-time simulations.

Digital Twins in Education Today
Advances in the power and speed of computing and telecommunications, combined with technologies such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence, means that realistic digital humans can be created and animated almost in real-time.

Digital Twins in Surgery and Education

Digital twins today are still primarily used in education and training applications to provide realistic simulations and hands-on training. Health and Medical applications are still a key application area for digital twins because they :-

  • Minimise the risk to human patients
  • Avoid the use of expensive specialist equipment such as MRI scanners etc
  • Make medical training accessible 24×7
  • Use gamification techniques to make training more engaging

Digital Twins in Remote Care

Digital Twins in Remote Care

With the rapid development of wearable sensor technologies, digital twins are increasingly being used to monitor patients in their homes to deliver remote care and avoid the costs and risks associated with hospitalisations. These wearable technologies also support personal health management and, in the future, will have the potential to make an impact on preventative health when combined with practices such as lifestyle medicine.

In this context, it is likely that digital twins will act as personal coaches accessible via smartphones to guide and motivate us to better health practices and speak on our behalf when describing symptoms and potential diagnoses to our doctors.

Digital Twins in Biotech and Drug Discovery
One of the most important and significant used of digital twins will be in the laboratories of biotech companies where a combination of digital twins, machine learning and AI will improve the cost effectiveness and speed of R&D in Life Science Companies.

Digital twins for a variety of health and wellbeing applications have the potential to transform almost all aspects of healthcare.

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