“Innovative communication tools can save lives”

On Thursday, June 14th, BluePoint Antwerp hosts The 5th Conference on Digital Health, a conference about all the new technologies that are about to take medicine and healthcare to the next level. One of the speakers is Rafael nn. Business in Antwerp had the chance to talk to him beforehand and ask about his own journey in e-health.

Rafael Grossmann, who hails from Venezuela, works as a surgeon in the state of Maine in the north of the United States. ‘A very remote area’, he says. ‘And that can be challenging. Our hospital is relatively small but services a very large area. Sometimes people drive 200 miles just to get to the hospital for a doctor’s visit. That’s expensive and it leads to people procrastinating important check-ups or procedures. Worse still: in emergencies, help sometimes comes too late.’

Remote medicine

That is why Grossmann was one of the first to look for faster ways to communicate with doctors and healthcare professionals in remote locations. ‘Just imagine what a difference we could make if we could assist professionals remotely while they perform an urgent medical procedure! We could literally save lives. When the iPod Touch came out, I immediately saw its potential and started to use that simple, affordable device to perform “telemedicine”.’

Live from the operating room

Since then, Grossmann has become a pioneer in telemedicine, using virtual and augmented reality to improve care and help patients. ‘During a visit to Silicon Valley I discovered the Google Glass. I immediately saw the possibilities it offered to connect and communicate with people. In 2013 I used the Google Glass in the operating room for the first time. While I was working, my students could follow the whole operation from a separate room and see everything I was doing from my own perspective. They could ask live questions and I could answer from the operating room. At that time, my approach was groundbreaking.’

‘In the meantime, the medical possibilities of Google Glass have expanded enormously and all to the patient’s benefit. In the past, during a consultation with a patient, you would mainly focus on your computer while the patient is talking. You’re trying to get every detail down in the patient’s digital file. But at the same time you forget to really connect with the person in front of you. Instead, using Google Glass, you can record the entire conversation and have a scribe input all the data remotely. So all the details are going into the file while you are making yourself more available for the patient in a real conversation.’

Tools to bridge the gap

Grossmann brims with enthusiasm, a man with a mission. It’s unsurprising that he is a welcome speaker at conferences such as The 5th Conference. ‘I love spreading the word’, he nods. ‘I really believe that communication technology can help medicine tremendously, not only in rural areas but worldwide. So I try to get colleagues and healthcare professionals as excited about it as I am. The patients are easy to convince; they want to receive the best care and they understand that technology can help them get it. But the policy makers are lagging behind. While the technology itself develops exponentially, the regulation is slow to follow. We have to ask ourselves the important questions about privacy and, above all, not be afraid of innovation. These communication tools will bring us closer together.’

Antwerp’s potential

‘I’m excited to come to Antwerp and talk to other pioneers in the sector’, adds Grossmann. ‘In Belgium, and Antwerp in particular, there is so much potential for innovation. It’s a small area with a high concentration of talented people; people who are interesting, curious, and willing to truly engage with these ideas. By building a tight network, we can quickly make big leaps.’

In 2018, Antwerp had twice as many start-ups and scale-ups than in 2012. This is a remarkable finding: in 2018, these innovative companies raised up to four times more capital for their business growth than six years earlier. With this, the city of Antwerp demonstrates a clear ambition: within six years, the city wants to occupy a place in the European top 10 scale-up cities.
On 14 and 15 May international experts and entrepreneurs are coming together at FutureSummits in Antwerp to discuss the future of Artificial Intelligence. FutureSummits is a technology event organised by the leading research and innovation centre imec. “Artificial Intelligence will make our way of working and living more efficient for entrepreneurs, residents and cities”, explains John Baekelmans, Vice President of imec. It’s no coincidence that FutureSummits is taking place in Antwerp. imec believes Antwerp has a pioneering role to play in AI as the smart city of Flanders.
Antwerp is a booming hub for digital innovation. The city was invited at SXSW (South by Southwest), a prestigious conference about music, film and technology in March 2019 to present the role of Antwerp as startup city.