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Why Virtual Brain Simulations Are the Future of Health Care

November 18, 2019, 8:40 PM UTC

We’ve been hearing about the digital health revolution for a while now, with its promises of A.I.-fueled automated health systems, robot-assisted tech, and technology the medical industry would have only dared to dream of a few decades ago.

At the Fortune Global Forum in Paris on Monday, GE Healthcare CEO Kieran Murphy and Dassault Systèmes chief executive Bernard Charlès laid out how their companies are trying to realize that digital health dream at this very moment—including through technology that can virtually replicate human hearts and brains and warn health care workers of impending emergencies.

The French software firm Dassault Systèmes snatched up Medidata, a U.S. company that provides cloud-based services for drug development and clinical research, in a $5.8 billion deal this summer.

Charlès sees it as a perfect match for Dassault’s business, which has its fingers in dozens of industries—including aviation and defense—and employs 3D simulation to help these disparate sectors make their businesses more efficient.

In the case of health care, this can mean creating virtual models of a child’s heart to assess potential risks and complications before any actual surgery has to be performed (something Dassault has already done with its Living Heart Project, in conjunction with the FDA) or mapping out the human brain for similar purposes (something the company is currently working on).

“Our goal is to really create a virtual twin of a human,” Charlès said in a panel Monday.

GE Healthcare CEO Murphy added that A.I. can help doctors and technicians who may be overloaded with mountains of medical images. That includes identifying life-or-death conditions such as pneumothorax (a collapsed lung) to bring them to the top of a health provider’s workload.

“A radiologist or physician under stress may have 200 scans to read, and an X-ray that includes a pneumothorax could be four hours down the workflow,” he said during the same panel. “It might go from hours down to 15 minutes [with this technology].”

The ultimate hope is that these technologies, which combine risk mitigation with increased efficiency, will lead to health care cost reductions—and improvements in health outcomes—in the next decade.