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Digital Healthcare, New Form of Health Management
[383호] 2017년 03월 15일 (수) Reporter Lee Sang-hui sanghui@, djgwak@
Digital healthcare is the integration of living and health using both hardware and software digital technologies. It frees personal healthcare from constraints of time and space. The research of digital healthcare can be split into many different subfields, for example, digital medical devices, digital therapies, wearable devices, telemedicine, big data analysis, and healthcare consumer engagement. The Postech Times interviewed a POSTECH professor engaged in digital medical devices research.
Interview: POSTECH Professor’s View on Digital Healthcare
Professor Park Sung-min (CiTE) researches about “Medical Device and Digital Healthcare Development.” Prof. Park worked as a Research and Development engineering manager in Medtronic, the multinational company that produces and supplies high tech equipment related to the circulatory system and nervous system. He researched implantable cardiac pacemakers that sense incorrect electric cardiac signals and replace them with artificially made correct signals. After that career, Prof. Park worked as a health Research and Development director in Samsung Electronics from 2014 to 2016. In Samsung, he researched healthcare based on mobile devices that people always carry as a part of their body.
Now in POSTECH, Prof. Park is working on similar, but more innovative and future oriented research. One topic he is interested in is the artificial pancreas. The artificial pancreas inserted in human body measures glucose density in real time, analyses the data, and operates the Insulin pump at an appropriate time before the blood sugar level decreases. The other topic he studies is an electroceutical, which is formed from the words “electricity” and “pharmaceutical.” The microdevice is implanted near the human nervous system, detects incorrect electric signals, and generates correct signals instead.

Q. How do you cooperate with those working or studying in the area of medical science and other majors?
Collaboration with Seoul National University Hospital and Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital is always unique. As doctors take major positions in medical science and build very close relationships with their patients, they are the ones who know which device is most needed for certain diseases or maintaining of health. Through conversation with them, I always check which treatment has the most demand among patients. The designing of specific devices and the need for the minimization of incision area are good examples. While animal testing and clinical demonstration are crucial, engineers do not exactly know the boundary of perfection in experimental results for final testing. As I am an engineer myself, I almost completely entrust the setting the exact boundaries of the testing to doctors.
Cooperation with Industrial & Management Engineering is a major part of my research. The most important thing about Mobile Health is data management, as tons of data are accumulated. For example, when you are measuring blood sugar, there is no point in using insulin to lower the blood sugar level when it has already gone up. Instead, you have to know it in advance while the blood sugar is on the normal level, and inject insulin. To be able to do so, the ability to expect the forthcoming data and to perform data mining is essential. As professors from Industrial & Management Engineering do a lot of research about it, I am pursuing collaboration with them.
Because electric components such as antenna and microcircuits are dealt with more commonly by professors from Electrical Engineering, I cooperate with them as well. I think it is more efficient to collaborate with various experts under tightly bonded disciplines, which can be set after integrating the entire system.

Q. What are positive aspects of IT based medical technology?
The most significant change will be that the treatment will not be restricted to the hospital, and thus will be more flexible for patients. Although patients get treatments and diagnosis, they still have to live normal lives in the end. It would be ideal if they could diagnose and monitor their own health. With portable medical devices based on IT, the self-diagnosis of their health can be done during normal lives, without having to visit hospitals.

Q. Is there any limitation in IT based medical technology?
The major problem is cost. I think obstinate standard of approval of medical equipments is one of the reasons. As regulations are very intensive, the cost of failure is high. Of course, the fact that they are used for human bodies inevitably requires intensive regulations, but in terms of price, it is true that they are too obstinate. Deciding to what extent the regulations must exist deserves some contemplation.
I think technological limitations have mostly been overcome. Because technologies for building medical equipment are quite conservative, they need more time to be adopted compared to the others. Often, the corresponding IT technologies are not yet applied to medical technology because it takes them time to complete verification processes.

Q. What do you expect in the future of IT-based medical engineering?
I think the future is positive, especially in Korea. There is no reason why IT based medical engineering cannot be developed in Korea, considering its current status. However, not many people have joined in. Also, even though the 24 hour sensor or IoT has been well developed, Korea still lacks interpreting and analyzing data. Digital Healthcare is one of the key topics that can get the greatest impact from data analysis.

Q. Any advice for Postechians?

I dearly hope that many students get interested in research about medical engineering. Also, I hope Postechians have more proactive minds. Based on my experience in industry, I think those people who seek what they pursue in their lives and try to create something develop significantly.
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