Plug in to a healthier future

Research to set up an online system enabling doctors to access patients’ health records from across the European Union has been launched.

The European Commission project, MyHealthAvatar, is designed to give people more knowledge and control of their health via their computers and mobile phones.

The programme will keep archives of each user’s electronic health records, as well as store data about daily activities and family history.

These combined factors, which may influence general health, would then be collated to predict and prevent potential diseases such as various forms of cancer.

It will also build a consistent continent-wide record of individual citizens enabling effective treatment should travellers become unwell anywhere in the EU.

The three-year, 2.4 million Euro study is dedicated to developing novel approaches to provide a solution that offers access, collection, sharing and intelligent analysis of long-term and consistent personal health status data through an integrated digital representation in silico environment.

This will help to deliver clinical analysis, prediction, prevention and treatment tailored to the individual subject.

The UK’s University of Lincoln is involved in the project, which is being led by the University of Bedfordshire’s Professor of Visual Computing, Feng Dong.

Professor Dong, who will be working with a team from the University’s Centre for Computer Graphics and Visualisation, believes the avatar “could reshape the future of healthcare”.

He said: “Although there have been similar projects to this in the past, we are hoping to learn from previous ideas which didn’t quite work to make MyHealthAvatar successful. I think one of the key issues is to make it people friendly and for it to be easy-to-use. Most of the data for the Avatar will come from the system itself and there is very little for the user to actually insert, or do.

“With today’s technology it is possible to use a person’s information from sites such as Twitter and Facebook to give us more details about a patient. With mobile phone tagging it is also possible for the system to show where the patient has been. So for example if they are regularly in the pub, it could suggest to the user that they are drinking too much.

“Additionally if they go to the doctors and told they have a disease, precise medical information will be sent their way; which a) reduces  the need revisit the doctor, and b) helps them research  online for healthcare information. So we are hoping this will make MyHealthAvatar stand out.”

The University of Lincoln’s Dr Xujiong Ye, who will be working with a team from the University’s Laboratory of Vision Engineering (LoVE), will primarily focus on the area of multi-scale medical image analysis.

Dr Ye, a Reader in the School of Computer Science, said: “We will develop novel image analysis algorithms and approaches using advanced computing technology to support accurate examination and reliable detection of a range of cancer diseases through the information available, from imaging data to histology data. It is expected that the availability of such information will help solve many uncertain cases caused by the ambiguity of data that is often seen at a single scale. For example, the analysis of histology images will provide significant measures to reach more trustworthy decisions for the detection of abnormal structures from the images at the organ level.

“We aim to build an infrastructure framework to allow us to collect all the health information required so we can create a 4D digital representation of the patient. This project is expected to exert a major influence on the reshaping of future healthcare in the handling of increased life expectancy and the ageing population.”

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