How the digitalisation will transform dermatology

Mathias Bonmarin is Head of the Sensors & Measurement Systems group at the ZHAW School of Engineering. In September 2019 he started his one-year DIZH Fellowship to study the impact of the digitalisation of dermatology on the society.

Mathias, what do you want to study during the 12 months of your fellowship?

The title of my fellowship is “Digital Dermatology”, and the goal is to study the effects of digitalisation on dermatology. Since the skin is a very accessible organ, everybody can take pictures of it with your smartphone, which can be sent to an AI which analyses the image with visual recognition. Therefore, dermatology is probably the medical speciality that is most impacted by digitalisation. And I wanted to investigate the extent of this impact, for example on health costs or on the education of the next generation of dermatologists. But this also includes legal questions, for example when the AI offers a diagnosis: who is taking the responsibility then?

How is your fellowship integrated in your research at the ZHAW?

I am leading the Sensors and Measurements group at the ZHAW School of Engineering, and we create new types of sensors for medical applications. For example, sensors and tools that measure various skin parameters like hydration or perfusion. Most of the applications are in dermatology, and we are in close contact with dermatologists and skin scientists. And all sensors have the potential to be miniaturised and be placed in wearables.

And the society needs to understand the impact of this transformation. For example, if an AI can diagnose skin diseases: will we need to pay Google or other companies for making this diagnosis? Many smaller companies are very active in this field and already propose AI-based diagnostics as an additional tool for dermatologists. In the next five to ten years most dermatologists will use this technology as a “second opinion.” And they need to know how the device works.

Is this aspect also part of your teaching at the ZHAW?

We have a very interesting Master course called “Swiss Biodesign”. It’s a cooperation between the ZHAW School of Engineering, the ZHAW School of Management and Law, the ZHAW School of Health Professions, and the ZHAW School of Life Sciences and Facility Management. The course is about Digital Health, and the goal is to create interdisciplinary student teams and teach them the method “Biodesign” developed by Stanford University. The course is about Digital Health in general, but each year we choose a specific topic, and one day we can perhaps focus on dermatology and cosmetics.

Did you meet any new people during or because of the fellowship?

One subtopic I’m working on in this fellowship is Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in dermatology, and for a publication on the topic I was in contact with many different people. I spoke to dermatologists who are active in the digitalisation of the field, professors at the Harvard Medical School, and Swiss companies that are involved in Virtual Reality in dermatology.

How did the pandemic influence your fellowship?

Unfortunately, I didn’t meet the other DIZH fellows at the ZHAW. The workload dedicated to my fellowship is 20%, and I wanted to use this time, that is one day per week, to work exclusively on my project in the co-working space in Zurich. Due to COVID-19, I couldn’t work in Zurich and I had additional workload at the ZHAW, for example switching to online teaching and planning online exams.

Do you have any advice for the new fellows who have just started their fellowships?

My advice to the other fellows is to really create a roadmap with milestones, deliverables, and a timeline and stick to this plan. This also helps to keep up the motivation for this fellowship even if the interaction among the fellows is limited. This fellowship is a fantastic opportunity and I really hope that the pandemic will come to an end. And if the other fellows can then use the co-working space in Zurich, I will be very jealous!

DIZH Fellowships at the ZHAW

The Digitalization Initiative of the Zurich Higher Education Institutions (DIZH) promotes cooperation on digitalisation issues between higher education institutions in Zurich. Excellent researchers at the ZHAW can apply for fellowships and receive funding for up to 24 months. Find out more about the DIZH Fellowships at the ZHAW on the website of ZHAW digital.

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