Digital Medicine

: 2018  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1--4

Digital medicine: Emergence, definition, scope, and future

Shaoxiang Zhang1, Rongxia Liao2, Joseph S Alpert3, Jiming Kong4, Uwe Spetzger5, Paolo Milia6, Marc Thiriet7, David John Wortley8,  
1 Institute of Digital Medicine, Army Medical University, Chongqing, China
2 Medical English Department, Army Medical University, Chongqing, China
3 Department of Medicine, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, Arizona, USA
4 Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Science, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada
5 Department of Neurosurgery, Klinikum Karlsruhe, SKK, Karlsruhe, Germany
6 Prosperius Institute, Neurorehabilitation and Robotic Area, University of Perugia, Umbertide, Italy
7 Laboratoire Jacques-Louis Lions, UMR 7598, University Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France
8 President of the European Chapter of the International Society of Digital Medicine, Towcester, UK

Correspondence Address:
Shaoxiang Zhang
Institute of Digital Medicine, Army Medical University, Chongqing


How to cite this article:
Zhang S, Liao R, Alpert JS, Kong J, Spetzger U, Milia P, Thiriet M, Wortley DJ. Digital medicine: Emergence, definition, scope, and future.Digit Med 2018;4:1-4

How to cite this URL:
Zhang S, Liao R, Alpert JS, Kong J, Spetzger U, Milia P, Thiriet M, Wortley DJ. Digital medicine: Emergence, definition, scope, and future. Digit Med [serial online] 2018 [cited 2022 Dec 2 ];4:1-4
Available from:

Full Text

The rapid development of information science, especially of computer science and technology, has ushered in a digital era.[1] The development of life science has been promoted greatly by widely-used digital technology. Technology in the life sciences is being increasingly integrated with that in information science, leading to the emergence of new growth points of disciplines and hot areas of research.[2] Digital medicine is typical among these rapidly evolving areas.

Views of digital medicine vary markedly from one to another.[3],[4],[5],[6] Elenko et al.[7] defined digital medicine from the standpoint of entrepreneurs by stating “products that are undergoing rigorous clinical validation and/or that ultimately will have a direct impact on diagnosing, preventing, monitoring, or treating a disease.” They were successful in tracking digital medicine's emergence by taking it as a commercial field for smart devices and physiological apps to facilitate not only diagnosis and treatment but also healthcare as a whole. Their description of digital medicine draws a picture of an intriguing field, especially for commercial sectors.

Digital medicine has actually been an intriguing field not only for entrepreneurs but also for patients, clinicians, researchers, and all people in relevant industries. With the rapid development of digital medicine research and industries, collaboration between talents in relevant fields finally forges an international arena for digital medicine scientists. As mainstays and thought leaders of digital medicine, they came together to discuss the future of this new field, taking their first step by answering important questions: How did digital medicine emerge and grow into a discipline? What is the scope of digital medicine? What kind of future can be expected for this promising field?

 Establishment of International Society of Digital Medicine

During June 17–19, 2016, the 1st International Conference on Digital Medicine was held in Nanjing, China. Leading scientists from 28 countries explored the concept of digital medicine extensively involving an exchange of ideas in both basic science research and clinical applications of digital medicine. One of the highlights was the establishment of a worldwide International Society of Digital Medicine (ISDM) based on a platform of international communication and cooperation.[8] With the establishment of the ISDM, it was generally agreed that the basic concepts of digital medicine should be defined from the standpoint of medicine in its entirety.

 Digital Medicine Grew into an Independent Discipline

Digital technology has changed the outlook of modern medicine

Digital technology, especially network technology (involving the internet and mobile devices) has had a great influence on business modes, workflow, and even people's behaviors and perspectives.[9],[10],[11] New products, technologies, and even theories have been introduced into modern medicine, including digital medical devices, digital surgical simulation and navigation, digital hospitals, digital medical education, and so forth.[12],[13] As a result, modern medicine shows traits of digitalization in every aspect and benefits from it economically and socially.

The extensive application of digital technology in medicine has greatly improved clinical diagnosis and treatment. Diseases that could not be diagnosed in the past can now be diagnosed and treated with proper therapy. For example, the transition from two-dimensional to three-dimensional (3D) to four-dimensional images of X-ray,[14] CT, and MRI have remarkably improved the accuracy and precision of diagnostic imaging. In surgery, navigation technology [15] and computer-assisted design of personalized surgery have substantially improved outcomes. Digitalization promotes clinical practice to be more precise, more personalized, and closer to remote service.[16]

Digital medicine: From an interdisciplinary practice to an independent discipline

In the beginning, digital medicine was considered to be just a new type of interdisciplinary practice that is the most representative and also most dynamic in terms of innovation in theory, knowledge, technology, and methodology. Digital medicine implements the newest paradigms and methods and utilizes products of computer science [4],[17] as in recent imaging modalities and robot-assisted surgery. Functional imaging assesses the metabolic state and genetic context. Surgical robots enable remote operation.

With the development of clinical practice and basic science research, digital medicine has grown into a new discipline, which emerged from the intersection of multiple fields ranging from medical science to computer science and applied mathematics and has become a driving force for the rapid development of medicine.[18] Digital medicine involves new revolutionary algorithms and technologies. For example, coupled 3D anatomical and functional imaging, computer-assisted navigation of surgical instruments minimizing tissue damage, and personalized artificial organs contribute to an efficient clinical practice.

 The Definition of Digital Medicine

Digital medicine is a scientific field, in which scientists seek to explain pathophysiological phenomena, solve medical problems, and explore new therapeutic procedures using modern digital technology, with the aim of improving the quality of human life. As a new frontier interdisciplinary phenomenon, digital medicine combines modern medicine with new and advanced digital technology, with medicine as the core, involving computer science, applied mathematics, updated methods in physiological signal and image acquisition and processing, and mechanical engineering, among other engineering fields [Figure 1].[19] The primary aim of digital medicine is to improve clinical diagnosis and treatment using new and advanced digital technology.{Figure 1}

Digital medicine can be defined in both a narrow and a broad sense: In its narrow sense, digital medicine includes all the theory, knowledge, technology, and methodology which are involved in solving medical problems using modern digital technology in basic science, clinical medicine, preventive medicine, and so forth, to increase our understanding of life phenomena and the nature of disease as well as to improve clinical diagnosis and treatment. In its broad sense, digital medicine also involves the development and application of digital devices and equipment to facilitate rehabilitation and health-care service, construction of digital hospitals, and digitalization of hospital administration [Figure 2].[20]{Figure 2}

 The Scope of Digital Medicine

The basic connotation and eventual goal of digital medicine

The basic connotation of digital medicine is as follows: clinicians, taking the leading role, work jointly with scholars in many areas including basic and applied sciences. Developed tools from collaborations between these disciplines not only improve clinical practice but also the patient life as well as reduce health cost.

The scope of digital medicine

Digital medicine, in its narrow sense, means digital technology-assisted clinical practice, i.e., employing computer tools and technology in clinical diagnosis and treatment. Nowadays, clinicians use navigation tools associated with 3D virtual endoscopy, in particular of the respiratory and digestive tract, as well as surgical interventions, especially in neurosurgery, and wait for simulators to train and navigation tools to facilitate gesture (even for experts) for optimized implantation of medical devices (e.g., coiling of cerebral aneurysms). By employing modern digital approaches including CT and MRI, surgeons can noninvasively gather accurate information from patients to identify abnormalities during operations, with no need to incise for inspection of the internal anatomic structures.

Digital medicine, in its broad sense, also involves the development and application of devices and equipment in medical diagnosis and treatment, rehabilitation and healthcare,[21],[22] as well as construction of digital hospitals, digitalization of hospital administration, construction of regional medical and health-care networks, remote diagnostic techniques, and treatment involving modern information technology.

Digital medicine in the broadest sense involves digital information and communication technology that is used in various disciplines in biomedicine. In addition, digital medicine plays an increasingly important role in different research, health, and educational institutions and is involved in many industries.

 The Future

Professor Zhiqiang Huang, a leading hepatobiliary surgeon, once predicted the future of medicine by saying “when digital medicine develops to a certain phase, doctors and nurses who used to be excellent in both theory and clinical practice, if not prepared to learn and accept new knowledge and methods of digital medicine, will not be able to serve their patients properly, and will, therefore, become unqualified; surgeons in the future will have to work together with surgical robots.” His words foresee a rapid development and bright future for digital medicine.[23]

In future years, digital medicine, taking advantage of the establishment of the ISDM, will definitely enter a new phase of rapid development involving new and applied research which will make the clinic of the future into a world of digital design and innovation. The result will be ever improving levels of patient care and clinical outcomes.


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