It can be hard to get a good night of sleep in Helsinki in mid-June, where fiery sunsets last nearly till midnight and the bright sun climbs back up into the sky just a few short early morning hours later. But in a way, it’s the perfect setting for Jack Page and his colleagues, who are tasked with perfecting apps for machines that put people to sleep.
To be sure, Page, who works for GE Healthcare’s anesthesia business, isn’t taking any of his own medicine to catch some rest after a full day. (Like the locals, he relies on heavy hotel blinds to keep the light out at night.) But this week he flew to the Finnish capital from his home in Madison, Wisconsin, for HIMSS & Health 2.0 Europe, a conference focusing on how data, software, artificial intelligence and other digital tools are changing healthcare and tailoring it to individual patients and specific desired results. “This is the biggest digital health gathering in Europe where any digital company in healthcare would want to be,” he says, about the European conference. “Digital applications are the next frontier of healthcare. It’s where the growth is, it’s where the opportunity is, it’s where we need to go in order to advance healthcare.”
Page’s employer had a large booth here, right past the main entrance inside the cavernous Messukeskus, Helsinki’s massive conference center that in the fall also plays host to Slush, a tech conference focusing on startups that is widely seen as Europe’s answer to SXSW. Besides Page’s anesthesia apps — which are designed, among other things, to help doctors reduce the use of the sleeping gas they need in the operating room and also to protect patient’s lungs during surgery — the GE display also featured AI, machine learning software, voice recognition and other tools that can help, say, radiologists sift quickly through gigabytes of X-rays and MRI images and cardiologists monitor treatment progress. “Everything is going digital and software is already changing healthcare outcomes,” says Peter van Heezik, marketing manager for digital solutions in Europe for GE Healthcare.
GE’s digital push is also leading to new collaborations in the industry, both with large players like Roche, whose stand in Helsinki was situated right next to GE’s outpost, and startups building their product inside the Health Innovation Village, an incubator located inside GE Healthcare’s Finland headquarters in Helsinki.
Just last week, GE Healthcare and Roche released NAVIFY Tumor Board 2.0, a solution that pools medical imaging and other patient data to give medical teams a more comprehensive view of each patient in a single place before they decide on treatment.
Roche said in a news release that the product allows radiologists to upload their patient records to the same dashboard holding patient files from other disciplines in the cancer care team. “Having complete patient diagnostic information in one location helps specialists use the limited time they have during tumor boards to review all relevant files quickly and align on the best possible treatment plan for each cancer patient,” Roche said.
At the GE booth, residents of the Health Innovation Village like Top Data Science, Adusso, Buddy Healthcare, and Rehaboo presented their own demos. Top Data Science, for example, has developed machine learning algorithms that help doctors identify high-risk cases inside intensive care units, looking for patients who may take a turn for the worse and those who are progressing well and can be released to standard hospital care. Another solution is sifting through computed tomography and magnetic resonance images of the prostate, helping radiologists spot cancer. The company, which was acquired last year by a Japanese investor, is already testing two algorithms inside a hospital. Rehaboo, another company present at HIMSS, is gamifying physical therapy to induce people recovering from a surgery to exercise. But its games can also solve problems inside retirement homes and offices, where they can help break the monotony and health risks of a 9-to-5 desk job. Rehaboo’s demonstrations drew large crowds at the conference, getting even the secretary general of the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport to stretch and squat.
All four of the startups grew up inside the Health Innovation Village. The business incubator opened its doors in 2014, and today it holds about 40 businesses. Buddy Healthcare, for example, is developing a smartphone app that syncs the hospital requirements of patients to make sure that when they show up for a procedure, everything goes according to plan. Doctors can send patients (or parents) reminders to keep everyone on schedule. The company is already working in half of the hospitals in Finland, says Jussi Määttä, its founder and CEO. He started the company after he found out that between 10% and 17% of all surgeries get canceled because patients fail to jump through the requisite hoops. “The hospitals lose money,” he says. “The doctor is there, the nurse is there, but the OR is empty.”
GE’s Page says that collaboration is critical both for GE and startups. “As a big corporation, we need to work with small startups,” he says. “We learn from them, they learn from us, get new, fresh ideas, for example. It’s critical to taking the whole industry into the future.”