Skip to main content

Prof. David Antons and Dr. Susan Stead interviewed on the project "SmartHospital.NRW".

Our professors are not only passionately committed to teaching but are also active in research: For example, within a project to transform existing hospitals into intelligent facilities of the future, the so-called Smart Hospitals. The state of NRW is funding the SmartHospital.NRW project for five years with around 14 million euros. We spoke with Prof. David Antons and Dr. Susan Stead, head of the Healthcare Innovation Lab at RWTH Aachen University, about the goals and opportunities of the project.

You would like to benefit from the enormous expertise of the project participants yourself? Contact us to discuss your options with our tailored in-house solutions.

What potential does artificial intelligence offer in medicine?

Prof. Antons and Dr. Stead: The greatest potential for the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in medicine lies in the digitization of processes that currently still take up a lot of time and effort on the part of nursing and medical staff. The application of AI technologies can, on the one hand, relieve the medical staff and, on the other hand, make the handling of processes more efficient and transparent. The use of AI can simplify treatment for both patients and medical staff and optimize the handover at critical interfaces, such as, for example, from the family doctor to the clinic. For example, the various involved parties (e.g., primary care physicians, health insurers, pharmaceutical companies) will also be better connected. In summary, digitization and the use of AI technologies can contribute to enormous cost reductions in the healthcare sector.

What are the goals of the SmartHospital.NRW project?

Prof. Antons and Dr. Stead: In order to be able to put NRW in a leading position in the German healthcare market, a procedural model for the transformation of existing hospitals in NRW into intelligent hospitals of the future (“Smart Hospitals”) is being developed in SmartHospital.NRW and implemented as a lighthouse project at Essen University Hospital. For this purpose, highly innovative applications based on AI, such as speech recognition, dialog systems, knowledge extraction from texts (natural language processing/understanding), and pattern recognition for automating and increasing the efficiency of clinical processes, as well as for health data analysis, are being developed. On the other hand, these use cases are embedded in an overall concept that aims to ensure future translation from research to care in order to increase efficiency and optimize processes. Therefore, in addition to the corresponding management processes and innovations, the continuation of the results as well as public relations work with a showroom for the presentation of the developments are an important component of the joint project.

What is your contribution to the project at RWTH Aachen University?

Prof. Antons and Dr. Stead: The Institute for Technology and Innovation Management at RWTH Aachen University (RWTH TIM) is contributing to the development of a process model of the impact and permanence of this project. In different work packages, we develop a measurement model regarding the AI penetration rate. The focus here is on quantifying the implementation status of the central aspects. The associated testing is carried out within the framework of a field study. Furthermore, we investigate the impact of the prototypical AI solutions developed in the project at different stages of development and from the perspective of different stakeholders (e.g. user, patient, management). Finally, viable business model alternatives and sales concepts for sustainable operation and the widest possible dissemination of the smart hospital concept and the specific intelligent solutions in the German healthcare system will be developed.

What fascinates you both most about artificial intelligence?

Dr. Stead: I believe we are at a revolutionary inflection point for industry and society that we can significantly influence and accelerate through sound research and development of AI technologies. While our everyday life is nearly no longer imaginable without AI innovation, such as an Alexa, Google HomePod Mini, or other intelligent voice control systems, the reality of the use of AI in industry and business often looks different, rather disillusioning. Especially from a medical perspective, AI solutions offer great advantages such as efficiency control and relief of staff. At the same time, different levels of maturity in digitization, as well as risks of data security and data protection, prevent significant progress in development. Particularly in socially critical areas such as healthcare, uncovering these potentials and hurdles by means of sound research and being able to play a significant role in shaping the digitization process is a great challenge.

Prof. Antons: It’s not for nothing that many people talk about the fourth industrial revolution when it comes to digitization. The past industrial revolutions have decisively changed economic life, work and the way we create value, as well as social and individual prosperity. This already indicates that digitization will change a great deal in the work processes of all of us, which will go hand in hand with changes in industrial structures. AI is certainly one of the key technologies of digitization. There are many exciting questions to be answered that will determine how we will live and work in the future. What the machine is allowed to do, how it is allowed to do it, and what role humans will play. Being able to witness this and help shape it is a great challenge and a responsible task.

What value do you attribute to artificial intelligence in other areas (apart from medicine) in the future, or what opportunities does artificial intelligence offer for the future in general?

Prof. Antons and Dr. Stead: Digitalization as an industrial revolution and AI as a key technology in it know no industrial boundaries. In every industrial sector, be it healthcare or other service industries, manufacturing or even infrastructure sectors such as mobility or energy, everywhere business processes can be digitally captured by sensors or by data collection and input. This forms the basis for many machine learning processes as a facet of artificial intelligence. But technologies such as voice control or the visual recording of human actions, e.g. in operations or manufacturing processes, can also be used universally. This is precisely the character of an industrial revolution: The broad availability of central key technologies is changing work processes in actually all sectors.

How do the topics of management and artificial intelligence play together?

Prof. Antons and Dr. Stead: Any change in organizations should not happen by chance, but should be recognized and shaped by the organization and the responsible management. Organizations that do not recognize changes in their environment or recognize them too late regularly become victims of their own inertia. We have seen this many times in the past. For example, in the change from analog to digital photography, where companies such as Polaroid, Kodak, or the German Agfa became insolvent as global corporations. Or in the area of mobile devices, where Nokia as a company with the first Internet-enabled device, the Nokia Communicator, still failed to understand the changes in the smartphone business – namely that the focus here is no longer on hardware, but on software and apps. Recognizing all this, preparing the organization for it, and initiating the necessary actions are management tasks.

RWTH Business School offers tailored in-house programs on diverse topics. How does your practical experience flow into these programs?

Prof. Antons and Dr. Stead: In our projects, we are allowed to accompany numerous companies, not only in the healthcare or other service sectors but also in the manufacturing or infrastructure sectors, in their steps toward digitization and in the introduction of artificial intelligence. In the process, we learn a lot about the challenges involved in these steps. We want to pass on this experience in order to offer companies and project teams that want to and should introduce AI the best possible tools for this path.

The consortium leader of the project is the University Medical Center Essen. The Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems (IAIS), the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Medicine, and the Technical University of Dortmund are also involved.

Would you like to experience our lecturers live and work together to advance the topic of artificial intelligence in your company? Then find out more about our tailor-made programs for your in-house qualification:

Portrait Dr. Susan Stead

Dr. Susan Stead
Healthcare Innovation Lab
RWTH Aachen University

Portrait Prof. David Antons

Prof. Dr. David Antons
Institute for Technology & Innovation Management
RWTH Aachen University