Taiwan tech firms see future in smart healthcare business

HTC Corp.’s wearable device VIVE Focus uses 3D Organon software to enable the user to explore the structure of the human body. (photo courtesy of DeepQ Technology Corp.)

By Gloria Cho

TAIPEI, NNA – Taiwan tech companies are responding to the stresses of an aging population on health care systems with new technologies for preventive care, early diagnosis and treatment.

“Prevention is definitely the future, not only for seniors, but for all of us,” Edward Y. Chang, president of DeepQ Technology Corp., a unit of Taiwan’s mobile device maker HTC Corp., said in an interview with NNA.

Taiwan is projected to become a “super-aged” society around 2026, with more than one in five of the population aged 65 years or older, according to the World Health Organization definition. The demographic outlook has worsened with the total fertility rate, the average number of children born to a woman in her lifetime, falling to 1.06 last year, National Development Council data show.

The result of this aging and shrinking of the population is a projected labor shortage that may require greater reliance on intelligent technologies. In health care, that means using artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose potential illnesses earlier.

Chang says his firm has developed an AI platform to do that, using algorithmic technologies that generate results faster and more cost-effectively.

DeepQ’s Neural Network, a set of algorithms modeled on the human brain, analyzes CT, MRI and X-Ray images with a high level of accuracy in just two hours, compared to days or even months required by other methods.

Applying the concept of Reinforcement Learning to diagnosis, where algorithms learn to attain a complex goal, DeepQ is partnering with local hospitals to create medical-chat robots that help patients with registration and other procedures and check their symptoms by asking a limited set of questions.

“Our accuracy has reached 85%,” said Jerry Cheng, senior director of business development.

For Chang, the so-called big data revolution is not what is revolutionary. “Only when small data can reach high accuracy is it a revolution for us,” he said.

Another Taiwan technology giant, AsusTek Computer Inc., is developing precision medicine through its subsidiary Asus Life Corp.

“Medicine is a high-end service industry, while making it intelligent is a means to problem solving,” Peter Wu, chief executive of Asus Life, told NNA in an interview.

The firm’s interactive AiNurse, a version of its Zenbot robot with AI application, performs lower level repetitive tasks like taking blood pressure, saving medical staff for higher skilled work.

Virtual reality technology, until now, used mostly in gaming, can also benefit the healthcare sector. With the aid of anatomy software such as Surgical Theater and 3D Organon, HTC Corp.’s wearable device VIVE lets users explore a human body structure inside and out.

The application also enables communication between physicians and patients on treatment plans before surgery and after. Used in education, it offers students an immersive learning experience, compensating for the drawbacks of conventional 2D graphics.

As devices such as fitness monitors gain popularity, companies envision an Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) incorporating medical devices, software applications, and health systems and services.

However, talent and technological prowess may not be enough. Wu said Taiwan faces the predicament of being a small domestic market with a long-term care sector that lags behind in modernization, a situation that he says is driving local players to seek bigger international opportunities.

“Taking the world as a market, Taiwan is like a lab,” he said.

Asus ventured into Europe last year where regulations are similar to those in Taiwan, Wu said.

Market intelligence firm Tractica predicts that AI solutions will secure more than $34 billion in revenue by 2025 in the worldwide healthcare market, up from $1 billion in 2017. By sub-sector, revenue from AI services is projected to reach $20.1 billion by 2025, followed by software ($8.6 billion) and hardware ($5.3 billion).

Tractica expects annual revenue from direct and indirect application of AI software will rise from $5.4 billion in 2017 to $105.8 billion by 2025.

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