Unlocking the Potential of Digital Twins in Healthcare: Benefits, Challenges and Opportunities
The application of digital twins in healthcare has the potential to revolutionize patient care, improve clinical outcomes, and reduce costs. Digital twins, or virtual replicas of physical objects and environments, are being used in many different industries, and healthcare is no exception. In healthcare, these can be used to provide better patient monitoring, improve remote care, and create personalized treatments. With the help of digital twins, healthcare providers can gain access to real-time data from patients and be better equipped to understand the physical, mental, and emotional needs of their patients. However, there are some challenges that need to be addressed before digital twins can be used to their full potential in healthcare. This article will explore the benefits, challenges and opportunities that come with using digital twins in this domain.
What is a Digital Twin?
Digital twins are virtual representations of real-world objects. A digital twin is a piece of equipment, for example, may have the same functionality as the physical counterpart. Digital twins can be created using a wide range of data sources, such as sensors, models, and images. In the context of healthcare, these technologies can include the full representation of a patient’s medical history, symptoms, current treatment, and even biometric data, such as blood pressure and heart rate.
Below, the figure represents a general overview of the digital twin technology in the healthcare domain.
Benefits Associated with The Use of Digital Twins
Digital twins offer many benefits to the healthcare industry. In the following sections, we explore the top three benefits offered by these technologies.
- Real-Time Data Access – While physical objects can be monitored and controlled, the data is often delayed. A digital twin, on the other hand, can be almost immediately updated with data. This means that healthcare providers can see and respond to real-time changes / real world evidence and abnormalities.
- Improved Remote Care – Remote care is when healthcare is provided to patients who are not physically in a healthcare facility. Remote care is growing in popularity, but it comes with several challenges, such as a lack of real-time data and an inability to supervise the patient. Digital twins can help with these challenges by providing real-time data and allowing healthcare providers to view the patient remotely (telemedicine support).
- Personalized Treatment – Digital twins can be used to create personalized treatment plans for patients. Using data from physical objects, such as equipment and machinery, and biometric data, such as blood pressure and heart rate, digital twins can create a 3D model of the patient’s health.
Disadvantages Associated with The Use of Digital Twins
For all the benefits of digital twins, there are still some challenges that need to be addressed. In the following sections, we explore the top three challenges.
- Difficulty in Adoption – Digital twins have been in use since the early 2000s, but they have only recently started to be used in healthcare. This is largely due to the fact that digital twins have been primarily used in industrial settings and that the concept has been hard for healthcare providers to grasp. While many find the concept of a digital twin attractive, it has been challenging for healthcare providers to adopt the concept.
- Possibility of False Information – When data is fed into a digital twin, it can be inaccurate or incomplete. This can lead to incorrect findings and incorrect treatment plans. However, there are some efforts underway to solve this problem. One approach is to make the data used to create the digital twin as accurate as possible. Another approach is to let the digital twin correct itself based on new data.
Below, the representation showcases several other challenges associated with the adoption of digital twins.
In the following sections, we explore three ways in which the use of digital twins in healthcare can be improved.
- Better Adoption Rates – With better adoption rates, healthcare providers will be able to use digital twins to their full potential. With the help of vendors and organizations, such as the Industrial Internet Consortium, healthcare providers can be better informed about the advantages of digital twins.
- Improved Data Accuracy – One way to improve the use of digital twins in healthcare is to make sure that the data used to create the digital twin is as accurate as possible. By doing this, digital twins will be able to provide better personalized treatment plans and make better decisions about patient care.
- Better Data Visualization – While digital twins provide plenty of data, it’s hard for healthcare providers to understand and visualize that data. One way to solve this problem is to provide healthcare providers with visualizations that make it easy to understand the data.
Despite their immense rise in popularity, digital twins still have some issues that need to be resolved. As such, there are some ways in which the use of digital twins in healthcare can be improved.