magine a future where the healthcare industry adopts radical new technologies, blockchain powers patient data, and artificial intelligence supercharges the development of drug therapies. This kind of future may seem like science-fiction. But at Health’s Digital Future, a special event titled “ETH Meets Digital Festival Zurich,” researchers and partners from ETH Zurich gathered to discuss the realities of this kind of future.

Moderated by Diplomatic Courier’s own Contributing Editor Shalini Trefzer, the event featured leading voices in technology, entrepreneurship, research and healthcare, all discussing the future of digital health.

Photo credit: ETH Zurich / Andreas Eggenberger.

A key takeaway from the event focused on the complexity of digital health, especially within large organizations. As brought up in the discussion between Novartis CDO Bertrand Bodson and ICRC ́s Director of Digital Transformation and Data Charlotte Lindsey-Curtet, one of the necessary components with digitizing large organizations is culture. A 156-year-old legacy organization such as ICRC can adapt to new technologies through careful analysis and understanding of culture. As Lindsey-Curtet put it: “It’s not really about technology, it’s fundamentally about people.” Without bringing the people on board in an organization’s technology transformation, it’s near impossible to use that technology for good.

One highlight of Health’s Digital Future was a presentation from the ETH Chair for Computer-Assisted Drug Design Gisbert Schneider. His radical new solutions for modern drug design include the use of AI to analyze a patient’s needs, determine optimal treatments, and minimize negative side effects. By translating molecular structures into strings of easily digestible information, AI tools can better understand chemistry and medicine. In the hands of researchers and medical professionals, these adaptive “virtual chemists” can be used to rapidly analyze and synthesize new compounds, supercharging medical research. These ideas and more are researched within RETHINK, a future-oriented think-tank housed at ETH Zurich.

Digital Festival Zurich founder and ETH alum Rasmus Rothe discussed his work delving into AI at venture studio Merantix. Merantix Healthcare uses AI for radiological screening, detecting cancer as good or better than humans. While the technology exists, adoption of AI is relatively slow in healthcare. According to Rothe, a key to overcoming this slow adoption is changing the medical workflow where it truly matters. As an example, instead of focusing on the small percentage of mammograms that are suspicious or have anomalies, Merantix’ AI pre-screens the 99.7% of screenings that don’t have signs of cancer. In doing so, this AI tool allows doctors more time to closely analyze anomalous screenings.

In a statement from ETH Zurich, “it was very much a credit to the knowledge and thoughtful engagement of the speakers that, during the break and after the event, several audience members came up to express their interest and appreciation of the perspectives they shared.” Throughout the day’s events, the speakers provided cutting-edge insights and next steps for revolutionizing medicine. In the end, Health’s Digital Future was a hopeful, thrilling look at what the healthcare industry might be.

Duncan Cox
Duncan is a Contributing Editor for Diplomatic Courier. Cox’s work experiences have taken him across the globe. He’s been a filmmaker in New Zealand, Japan, and the United States, and served as a cultural ambassador and educator on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.