AI in healthcare – opportunities, challenges and solutions

On June 6, 2024, Health Hub Vienna’s most awaited Meetup about “AI in Healthcare – opportunities, challenges, and solutions” took place during the ViennaUP festival. The event was held at TUtheSky at the University of Technology, Vienna, in cooperation with EIT Health Austria, LISAvienna, and EuroCC Austria, the national competence center in high-performance computing, big data analytics, and AI.

Irene Fialka, CEO of Vienna’s High-tech incubator INiTS, and managing director of Health Hub Vienna, focused in her welcome statement on the growing importance of AI in healthcare. She highlighted INiTS’s long-standing commitment to life sciences, supporting startups since 2002, including its first AI startup, Smart Information Systems, in 2005. This pioneering company developed what we would now call a chatbot and has since grown to become a global market leader in automated online e-commerce sales assistance, under the name Zovoo.

She also mentioned the first digital health startup, MySugar, which was the first digital health startup ever to be acquired by a pharmaceutical company. In 2018, Health Hub Vienna was launched, aiming to drive innovation in healthcare in collaboration with corporate companies.

Fialka addressed the challenge of integrating innovation into the healthcare system, a topic to be further explored in the event, and welcomed the partners.

Astrid Kaltenböck, Managing Director of EIT Health Austria, emphasized the significance of partnerships between like-minded organizations for fostering innovation, mentioning that EIT Health is among nine knowledge innovation communities. Kaltenböck highlighted EIT Health’s unique role in propelling healthcare innovation across Europe by collaborating with business research and educational institutions, and expressed her hope for Austrian innovation to succeed not only domestically, but also across the EU and beyond.

Eva Schlintl, representing LISAvienna, a cluster organization supporting life science companies in Vienna in fields such as pharma, biotech, digital health, and medtech, highlighted the rise of digital health startups in the city. LISAvienna provides support to startups by offering information on funding, lab space, office space, and assistance in attending international conferences and trade fairs. Eva encouraged companies interested in relocating to Vienna or those already based there needing support to reach out to her.

Georg Langs, professor for machine learning in medical imaging at the Medical University of Vienna and co-founder of Contextflow, delivered a comprehensive keynote on the role and potential of AI in healthcare. He starts by painting a picture of how AI was initially perceived in the medical field; it was seen as a tool of curiosity and exploration by early adopters, mostly radiologists interested in the possibilities it could bring to their profession.

However, Langs explained how this perspective has shifted dramatically over the years. AI has evolved from being a mere tool of interest to an essential component in healthcare delivery. Hospitals and healthcare facilities now see AI as a necessity rather than a luxury, recognizing the efficiency and specificity it brings to diagnosis and treatment procedures.

Langs provided tangible examples of AI’s practical applications in healthcare. In radiology departments, AI-assisted analysis software is used to process patient data, enhancing the accuracy and speed of diagnosis. In neurosurgery wards, artificial intelligence is used daily to assist in brain surgeries, providing crucial information about tumor locations and healthy tissue, which significantly improves surgical outcomes.

But the application of AI in healthcare isn’t limited to these examples. Langs talked about the potential of AI in predicting patient outcomes and even developing new treatments. He explained how AI can extract valuable markers from imaging data, which can indicate whether a patient falls into a high-risk or low-risk category. Such information is invaluable in determining the best treatment path for patients and can significantly impact their quality of life.

Furthermore, Langs highlighted the role of AI in the ongoing development of healthcare. AI’s impact extends beyond the delivery of healthcare services. It also contributes to the continuous improvement and evolution of healthcare systems and processes. AI is instrumental in automating tasks, increasing the efficiency of healthcare delivery, enhancing the quality of care, and making healthcare systems cost-effective.

Langs concluded his keynote by emphasizing the potential of AI in the future. He suggests that AI will play a significant part in developing new treatment strategies and drugs, thereby improving patient care and extending its benefits to a wider patient population. In summary, Langs paints a hopeful picture of AI’s role in healthcare, underscoring its significance in both the delivery and the ongoing evolution of healthcare.

Following the keynote, an engaging panel discussion unfolded, featuring Endri Deliu, Architect of Machine Learning and AI at EuroCC; Georg Langs; Helene Prenner, Programme and Project Manager at ELGA GmbH; and Andreas Strouhal, Specialist in Internal Medicine and Founder of medbee. The panelists provided valuable insights on a wide range of topics, from data accessibility and innovation fostering to regulatory challenges and the importance of early disease detection and prevention. Specifically, the panelists stressed the importance of making health data accessible to foster competition based on the quality of algorithms rather than access to data. They argued that such a move would be a significant step forward for Europe.

Endri Deliu, an experienced figure in the field of Artificial Intelligence, emphasized the importance of data accessibility in the healthcare sector. He stressed that the opportunity to improve patient care through AI is immense, especially given that healthcare is a document-heavy industry. Deliu highlighted the significance of fostering a culture of innovation, stating that investment is only one representation of a much-needed mindset.

Deliu advocated for greater ambition, encouraging startups to think beyond their local regions. He proposed a shift in focus towards not just European, but also global impact. According to him, Europe has the necessary ingredients to be the best in this field, including capital and talent, but lacks the structure to effectively distribute capital.

One of the crucial points Deliu raised was the need for improved collaboration between academia, research, and business. He pointed out that AI is a moving target that requires constant collaboration and exchange of knowledge between these sectors to stay ahead.

Helene Prenner acknowledged the need for substantial investment to drive this change and warned that Europe might not be moving quickly enough in this aspect. Prenner discussed the European Health Data Space, which mandates technological training in regulations, suggesting that this will lead to changes in teaching plans.

She also highlighted the potential for patient-reported outcome measures to improve healthcare, citing a study in oncology as an example. Prenner believes that if we incorporate this data into treatment paths, it could revolutionize healthcare. She ended with a call for increased investment in Europe to drive these changes and ensure the sustainability of the healthcare system.

Georg Langs, during the panel discussion, highlighted several key points about the future of AI in healthcare. He emphasized the importance of early-stage development with doctors for software designed for medical use. According to him, the continual interaction with doctors during the development phase helps both parties understand the limitations and possibilities of AI in healthcare.

Langs also highlighted the importance of prevention in healthcare, particularly secondary prevention – addressing diseases that occur after the first disease. He noted the potential of combining hospital visits with personal health monitoring data to aid prevention efforts.

Giving an engineering perspective, he mentioned that developing software, finishing it, and then presenting it to doctors as a finished product is not an effective approach. Instead, he posited that collaboration from a very early stage is crucial, involving repeated interactions and feedback loops to better align the software with the doctors’ needs and limitations.

Lastly, Langs emphasized the need to make data widely accessible to stimulate competition based on algorithmic innovation rather than data access. He sees the potential for a significant impact from initiatives aimed at broadening data access for academics and companies alike.

Andreas Strouhal, a practicing doctor and co-founder of medbee, emphasized the importance of trust and liability in the adoption of AI in the healthcare sector. He stressed the need for accurate and reliable data to build trust in new technology. A medical solution, he explained, must be trustworthy, even if it means providing less information, rather than promising too much and failing to deliver.

Strouhal also highlighted the issue of liability. Doctors need to be sure that they can rely on the recommendations provided by AI technology, and there must be clear guidelines on responsibility when treatment based on these recommendations succeeds or fails.

Strouhal expressed the importance of human connection in medicine. He believes that the rise of AI should not eliminate the human aspect of care, but rather free up more time for doctors to connect with their patients on an emotional level.

Strouhal’s key message was that while AI has a significant role to play in the future of healthcare, it is crucial to ensure that it is implemented in a way that builds trust, clearly defines liability and maintains the human touch that is central to patient care.

The event served as a dynamic platform for the exchange of ideas and insights, fostering an engaging dialogue between experts and the audience. It marked a significant step towards understanding the opportunities and challenges that AI presents in healthcare and how to navigate them effectively. The discussions underscored the need for continuous dialogue, collaboration, and innovation to harness the full potential of AI in revolutionizing healthcare services.

In her closing statement, Irene Fialka expressed the importance of thinking big when it comes to startups and the role of founders within academia.

She expressed her gratitude to the attendees and partners, including the University of Technology, TU Wien, EuroCC Austria, EIT Health, and LISAvienna.

She highlighted upcoming events including the AI for startups workshop on June 21st and the Health Innovation Summit on October 23rd, which focuses on patient centricity. She concluded by encouraging attendees to network, possibly present their solutions at future events, and consider supporting these events as partners.


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