Monitoring patients with traumatic brain injuries at home with an app and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation manoeuvres with drones are some of the future applications

How new technologies can help hospitals' emergency departments

Two years ago, the WHO published the report Ethics and governance of artificial intelligence for health, in which it recognized artificial intelligence's great potential for improving the health of millions of people around the world... provided that it is not misused.

This potential includes improving the speed and accuracy of detection and diagnosis of illness, facilitating clinical care; boosting health research and drug development, and supporting public health actions, such as morbidity surveillance, outbreak response and health systems management, as well as enabling patients to have greater control over their own healthcare and better understand their own evolving needs. Today, some of those uses are already under development, and there is an area in which experts foresee a great leap forward: hospital emergency departments.

As Oriol Yuguero, researcher at the UOC's eHealth Center, leader of the ERLab (research in emergency medicine) research group at the Lleida Biomedical Research Institute (IRBLleida) and head of the Emergency Service at Lleida's Arnau de Vilanova University Hospital explained, eHealth "needs to help us optimize the resources available and aid patient empowerment". He added that the goal is to improve care processes and make it possible to reach remote places where communications may be difficult. "It's mainly about saving time and improving comfort. Likewise, there's an increasing number of AI-based programs that help patients choose the best tools to deal with their medical emergency."

These applications are, to a degree, already available. One example is the medical emergency system in Catalonia. When a patient is treated by this system, a preliminary digital report is produced, which hospital doctors can consult before the patient even arrives. This means they have access to first-hand information of the most delicate moment. "This improves the organization of the team that will care for the patient and helps ready the necessary resources," said Yuguero.

There are also applications that allow for the monitoring of patients at home after their discharge from hospital, as well as AI-based tools that help detect fragility in patients who use the emergency services "and thus schedule follow-ups at home. In fact, the coming years will see more resources like these," he said.

This is supported by the figures on investment in digital health. According to a report by market intelligence and consulting firm Mordor Intelligence, AI in the medical sector was valued at $4.49 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $34.88 billion by 2026, growing at a compound annual growth   rate of 39.8% over the forecast period (2021-2026).

Monitoring at home and drones to perform CPR

Among the new technologies already being developed and expected to be launched soon is an application that could monitor patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) at home. "Here at IRBLleida, we're working on this application, with which we hope to do away with the need to carry out patient observation in hospital, improving their comfort and preventing complications such as delirium. If this initiative works, it will be highly significant, as TBIs in older people are very common," explained Yuguero.

Another application of new technologies, presented at a conference on emergencies in Spain and expected to be developed to reduce deaths from heart attacks, is drones with defibrillators that can initiate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) before any people can arrive on the scene.

Furthermore, experts believe that the coming years will see a significant increase in AI-based technologies providing patients with access to a great deal of information, to enable them to make better health-related decisions. However, this will also mean that these applications and technologies will contain a considerable amount of patient data, which is why, in Yuguero's opinion, good regulation is necessary to ensure the proper use of this information and prevent misuse.