"Don't get so het up about it, you'll give yourself a heart attack if you carry on like that" is a phrase we are hearing more and more in this hyper-stressed world driven too often by fear and insecurity. "Just listen to your body." But the fact is we don't. We're deaf - and blind - to the symptoms of high blood pressure.
Step forward Megi. She sounds like a minor character in Star Wars but she's a virtual healthcare assistant with a digital brain made up of AI components but modelled on the expert knowledge of specialist heart doctors and nurses. She was born and lives in Croatia but could be at home anywhere in Europe or the world for that matter.
MEGI is part of the new wave in digital health, an umbrella phrase embracing everything from e-health to diagnostic wearable devices and digital therapeutics. Cleverly, one might say she's a member of the revolutionary avant-garde in healthcare but, in truth, she and her fellow devices will soon become as familiar as antibiotics, a one-time radical breakthrough in medicine, or the smartphone.
MEGI is just one digital innovation celebrated last year by the European Patient Digital Health Awards (EUPDHA) which open this week for applications from researchers and practitioners, including digital entrepreneurs, across Europe to be recognised in 2022.
Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have awakened the world to the opportunities proffered by digital health. Like working from home, virtual consultations with doctors may become the norm as the focus of healthcare tilts towards preventive medicine managed by the patients themselves via their digital watches.
Of course, many afflictions require direct intervention. Last year EUPDHA feted the success of a project, Biel Smartgaze, which provides AI-enhanced electronic glasses to sufferers from low vision (there are 217m in the world!) who find it hard to carry out everyday tasks like walking along a pavement or reading a book. The device improves mobility, personal autonomy and quality of life.
These are among the better health outcomes EUPDHA is designed to foster. They in turn depend upon the growing collaboration between the pharma sector, tech companies, researchers and public health authorities that enabled us to mitigate the pandemic's impact. I am really impatient to see the winners of EUPDHA 2022, and encourage all European innovators to submit their solutions!
Author: Cyril Schiever, President Mid-Europe Region, MSD