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Soon computer-generated human avatars could be used to record and display medical histories as IT companies and researchers expand the application of digital technologies to medical practice, clinical trials and research.

Presenters told the Sydney University Computer Graphics International conference last month that digital graphic technologies used in computer games were now being applied to medical imaging, making it possible to generate lifelike images of patients that incorporate their medical history.

Dr Jinman Kim, an engineer specialising in medical imaging analysis, said vast amounts of data were generated by x-rays, MRIs, CAT scans and other medical images, and the challenge for clinicians was how best to identify and extract useful information.

Dr Kim, from Sydney University’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Technology, said digital graphic technologies used in computer games provided a way to present and analyse the information provided by medical images.

“The fundamental concepts behind video games, computer graphics or virtual reality are very similar,” he said. “They all share foundations and we are now applying them to the development of biomedical imagery.”

He said engineers at the Institute were “not far off” developing human avatars that look similar to the virtual characters used in videogames such as Minecraft, Halo or Grand Theft Auto to visually record and present the medical history of a patient.

Working with Royal Prince Alfred Hospital clinicians, they had already developed a three-dimensional ‘virtual human body’ that could be programmed to reflect a patient’s medical history, and which could be viewed on mobile devices.

Digital technologies are also being used to cut the cost of clinical trials and improve their efficiency.

Software company and consultancy Infosys has launched a cloud-based version of its Clinical Trial Supply Management (CTSM) program to reduce barriers to collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and research organisations.

The Federal Government’s plans to establish the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund has heightened the focus on ways to encourage more clinical trials to be conducted in Australia.

As reported in the last edition of Australian Medicine, Commonwealth Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb suggested the Fund be used to help finance clinical trials.

Infosys said the cloud-based application of its CTSM program would make managing clinical trials easier and more cost effective.

By integrating information from across the trial process, Infosys said the system would mean enterprises could respond more rapidly to changes in demand based on actual enrolment and patient turnaround, it said, adding that because the system was available on a pay-per-use basis, it circumvented the need for organisations to invest in and maintain expensive dedicated clinical trial management programs themselves.

Meanwhile, a partnership between medical software firm Health Communication Network and UK-based Map of Medicine aims to give practitioners access to the latest evidence and treatment pathways across more than 260 clinical topics.

Map of Medicine, initially developed in 2001 by two doctors at the Royal Free Hampstead Hospital as a way of cutting waiting times by making specialist knowledge available to all clinicians, has developed to become a major international database of clinical pathways based on the latest evidence.

HCN said the Map of Medicine database was constantly revised and updated, and the partnership between the two organisations would give Australian practitioners access to international standards and health care pathways, either as a reference or as a guide for the creation of pathways customised for local conditions.

HCN said the information would help GPs, acute clinicians and allied health professionals to develop agreed care pathways that could reduce waiting times, encourage more appropriate referrals and integrate care.

Adrian Rollins