AMCR Delving into Digital Conference

Digital technology is important in every sector of society, particularly in health. The potential of the medical charity sector in digital health was the theme of this week’s AMRC Conference at Google DeepMind in London. The event showcased charity projects and partnerships in digital health and explored the potential for digital innovation in medical research.

Aisling Burnand from the AMRC and Nick Partridge from the NHS kicked off the meeting with a warm welcome and introductory remarks about the potential of the charity sector in digital and the main objectives of the meeting: inspiring to explore the potential of digital and enabling networking and collaborations.

  • Julie Dodd from Parkinson’s UK presented their partnership with Global Kinetics to develop a device called PKG that tracks the symptoms of Parkinson’s patients as a control of their medication balance – it has shown a significant impact leading to changes in medication regime in 80% of cases. Julie mentioned that companies will not make much profit out of these devices so charities should step in.
  • Dominic King from DeepMind introduced their company as a research organisation that creates general artificial intelligence algorithms to tackle society issues. They are looking into problems in the NHS such as the moving from papers to digital and the difficulty in booking appointments and changing medication. He also provided insights on digital health such as putting the user at the centre when building a product, taking a robust approach to develop digital health, the importance of good design (“People expect products that delight them.”), of measuring impact and of data security.
  • Michael Seres, a Crohn’s patient from 11Health, talked about the importance of doctors and patients working as a team. Michael started a blog about his experience after a transplant that started being read by other patients and by the transplant team that performed the surgery. Michael mentioned how we could use everyday tools, such as Skype and WhatsApp, in healthcare and talked about the #wearenotwaiting movement created by a group of patients to track their own health using digital tools.
  • Lenny Naar from the Helix Centre gave a presentation about user centred design. He mentioned that the design of a product should engage people into technology. At the Helix Centre multidisciplinary teams that combine design & digital expertise with academic and engineering expertise and patients expertise work to make healthcare better.
  • Tim Parry from the Alzheimer’s Research UK presented their collaboration with Deutsche Telekom to create an app with a game to help dementia patients – SeaHero Quest. Data was collected from 2.4M players regarding visual/motor skills, path integration, wayfinding and memory. Tim mentioned some things to consider when developing such an app: tensions between scientists and gamers; keeping data collection small not to scare people; and ensuring that you show patient benefit.
  • Liam O’Toole from Arthritis Research UK talked about issues of patients with arthritis in obtaining information using conventional helplines: too many questions, very specific and personal, lack of continuity. He suggested that the solution could be to use cognitive computing since it understands human speech and patterns, puts questions in context and it learns and links. A prototype for a cognitive computing ‘helpline’ platform is currently being developed. Liam pointed out that while there is risk involved in creating something new, we also need to measure the risks of not doing it.
  • Jon Spiers from Autistica talked about the problem of severe anxiety in patients with autism. The techniques to approach anxiety are behavioural and simple to follow without a clinician – currently there is a toolkit for anxiety but it is a big book difficult to transport and to navigate. The charity had the idea of converting the toolkit into an app and making it available to families and individuals with autism. They started a partnership with Deutsche Bank that run a hackathon with experts to develop prototypes.
  • Michele Acton from Fight for Sight presented the Portable Eye Examination Kit (PEEK). It can detect serious eye diseases and allows examination of millions of people who do not have access to eye tests. PEEK was developed with the eye surgeon Andrew Bastawrous and you can watch his inspiring TED talk here.

 In summary, it was an inspiring meeting bringing together more than 80 delegates who discussed and shared their knowledge and ground-breaking projects in digital health. Medical charities have a clear interest in adding digital technology to their strategies, in sharing their ideas and in collaborating with each other and with industry partners to promote the development of digital technologies that can improve health.

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