Croatia has been given the opportunity to be a European driver of digital change in healthcare, and the project of the public-private consortium AI4Health “Artificial Intelligence for Smart Health and Medicine” was excellently evaluated by the European Commission (EC) within the Digital Europe programme.
As Poslovni Dnevnik/Josipa Ban writes, this means that the project, whose holder and coordinator is the Rudjer Boskovic Institute, along with the help of fifteen other partners, should become the Croatian EDIH (European Digital Innovation Hub).
The signing of the contract with the EC is expected in the third quarter, and it will provide the consortium with a sum of three million euros over the next three years. During that period, says Anja Baresic, the coordinator for partners from the Rudjer Boskovic Institute, Croatia has the opportunity to position itself among the leaders in the transformation of European health systems with the help of artificial intelligence (AI).
“Our goal is for at least part of the innovation based on artificial intelligence to come to life within the scope of Croatian healthcare, from which patients, healthcare professionals and innovators will benefit the most,” Baresic pointed out.
Four types of service
As she explained, although this country does have a decent number of innovators and startups in the field of healthcare, their AI solutions find it difficult to find their way to the healthcare system itself and really enter into practical application for several reasons. A common challenge is that they have nowhere to test these innovations in the development phase, and there is a real vagueness in terms of legislation regarding the entry of AI solutions into the market, especially in the healthcare sector where the risks are high. That should finally change thanks to this Rudjer Boskovic Institute project.
“In the hub for the application of artificial intelligence in healthcare that we’re going to establish, we’ll provide four types of services; pre-investment testing, assistance in accessing funding sources, improving skills and knowledge and networking ecosystems,” explained Baresic. All this will be possible because the consortium consists of actors from all sectors necessary for AI to come to life in practice – science, medicine, industry and the public sector.
According to Nina Sesto, the assistant director of the Magdalena Clinic and the project coordinator for health, this will be the key to the digitalisation of the Croatian healthcare system.
“The biggest shifts occur when different worlds grow closer, that is, when everyone comes and sits at the same table, jointly defines obstacles and also tries to find solutions,” she said.
The assistant director of the Clinic, which has had a telecardiology centre for more than twenty years now and monitors patients remotely, says there are some huge obstacles to significant digitalisation and application of AI not only here in Croatia, but all over the world.
“New technologies and tools need to gain the trust of the clinicians who need to use these new digital tools in treating their patients. Maximum transparency and a clear legal framework are needed,” she stated, adding that Magdalena is also working on developing their own innovation.
In the middle of the global coronavirus pandemic, they launched an impressive virtual clinic, and by the end of the year, the digital assistant Megi, intended for chronic cardiovascular patients, should come to life. In the initial development of Megi, the startup Mindsmiths, the founder of which is Mislav Malenica, who is also the president of CroAI, an association that has been part of the AI4Health consortium from the beginning and which gave Andrija to the Croatian healthcare system in the middle of the pandemic, also participated.
Malenica predicts a bright future for this Rudjer Boskovic Institute project on the basis of which Croatia could become part of the digital revolution. He noted the healthcare sector was not randomly selected.
“When AI started to develop we thought it would contribute to greater equality across all segments of life and in our society, but it ended up making some even bigger differences. We gathered together a team of experts from various fields and realised that healthcare is a sector that lacks digital innovations and that we can be the first to implement something in this area,” Malenica recalled.
He added that the problems in different healthcare systes around the world are a reality and that there is an obvious need for solutions. Hospital systems are becoming increasingly congested, and this is putting pressure on both staff and hospital costs, not to mention patient waiting times which may well be critical.
The solutions provided by AI, according to Deloitte research, can save about 400,000 lives a year, save about two million man-hours and about 200 billion euros a year.
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