Smart medical care and remote medical care have always remained a long-term vision, but they have rapidly progressed in the past five years. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated this field’s transformation and application by reducing crowded wards and unnecessary contacts. Frank Ko, President & COO of AU Optronics (AUO), has played a vital role in transforming AUO from a display supplier to a solution provider. GeneOnline had the opportunity to interview him and gather his views through the perspective of smart healthcare and the ICT industry.
AUO has been a key player in the medical field for several years, especially in providing medical displays, including high-end displays for diagnosis, endoscopy, surgery, X-ray, or PPE diagnostics. AUO is an important supplier in the industry and has in-depth cooperation with global leaders. In addition, AUO has ensured the incorporation of ICT solutions to the medical and healthcare fields from time to time. In the past, the medical scene focused on helping doctors, nurses, and the entire hospital improve operational efficiency. However, since the outbreak of COVID-19, everyone has more rigid needs. Therefore, besides solving the burden of medical care, it has also become imperative to protect doctors and nurses. That entails minimizing unnecessary contacts between frontline workers and preventing the overflow of patients.
Hence, the product planning and adoption of smart medical care and remote medical care have sped up. This is a big difference that AUO has witnessed. Another significant trend we observe is the rigid requirements of antibacterial standards for medical products. For medical displays, the emphasis was always on performance and quality, but now we must also strive to achieve high antibacterial standards. It has become crucial to prevent contamination even outside the operating room, such as general clinics and public spaces inside hospitals.
Besides providing professional displays and cooperating with system partners, AUO reckons there is an ample business opportunity for telemedicine’s accelerated growth brought by the gradual maturity of AI and 5G services. This year, we have the opportunity to integrate AIoT to existing frameworks and assist the medical industry in the intelligent upgrade of technology. We are also hoping to identify profitable business models and suitable products in our next phase. For example, we have cooperated with ADLINK on its all-in-one medical panel PCs featuring fully sealed aluminum housing and a fanless design for high hygienic standards with 360 degrees anti-bacterial treatment.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to the application of these fields?
The biggest challenge lies in the mutual understanding between the provider and the client. We must continue to create communication platforms and opportunities to ease the flow of information. Previously, when I discussed the ICT industry with Pan-Chyr Yang, Vice President of IBMI, I stressed that as long as medical experts can convey their demands, and the conditions are specified, we could deliver. However, medical professionals are too busy with their responsibilities, which creates a gap in our communication. I firmly believe that it is essential to discuss the needs of medical professionals and acknowledge their problems. This facilitates the understanding of each other’s capabilities and work towards technical and product solutions that improve overall quality.
I am also the Chairman of the Taiwan Display Union Association (TDUA), a party that has built a cross-domain communication platform with the Health Policy Association to recognize the medical community’s needs. TDUA has endeavored to fathom expectations by having regular conversations with the community. We find such interactions to be meaningful, and we would continue to do so. In addition, with the able assistance of the Health Policy Association, we communicate with the Ministry of Health and Welfare. This has created a platform for tripartite cooperation that enables effective communication between the industry, government, and academia.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity for more IT companies to enter the medical industry and invest in medical-related fields?
From a global perspective, I think COVID-19 has pushed governments to readjust their budgets and reallocate resources within their public healthcare system. With the entry of 5G communication and the maturation of AI technology, newer applications and opportunities have emerged in the medical field. From the perspective of smart manufacturing and AI, we are now performing automatic optical inspection (AOI) for image processing. So all these matured technologies have facilitated the readiness of more ICT technologies, thereby expanding not just the resource market but also the infrastructure and the environment. This has created a large and growing market for smart medical care, and AUO sees the potential for growth.
From Taiwan’s point of view, medical care, ICT, industrial PC, and displays are Taiwan’s advantageous industries. The collaboration of these industries will not only improve the quality and efficiency of Taiwan’s own medical care but also the export of technologies overseas, enabling smart medical care to become Taiwan’s next world-class industry.
As a leading manufacturer of medical displays, AUO has developed products used in ultrasound imaging, endoscopy, and surgery. It has also expanded the development of high-quality X-ray sensors and high-end medical panels, providing accurate diagnostic tools. Can you share your recent achievements?
AUO is no stranger to the healthcare industry. Over the years, we have spent a lot of time and energy in the research and development of medical-grade panels. We are one of the leading global manufacturers, providing about 20% of the global medical displays. With advanced technologies continuing to emerge, we have been recognized by many professional and leading medical device brands. For instance, in terms of high-end medical sensors, including static digital X-ray sensors or dynamic X-ray sensors used for both blood and dental mold development, AUO is developing this new product with our partners utilizing our accumulated advantages of displays. Furthermore, the new plastic substrate technology allows the X-ray panel to be lighter, thinner, and unbreakable.
What kind of international strategic partnership are you seeking for the future layout of smart healthcare?
We have three main focus areas under the smart healthcare field:
- The surgical area from the perspective of precision medicine. This comprises medical displays utilized in x-rays, ultrasound, CT, endoscopy, physiological monitoring, and physiological examinations. In addition, by employing antibacterial technologies, our display products can help doctors provide a more precise diagnosis and treatment while keeping health workers and patients safe in the operating room.
- The medical management area focuses on improving service efficiency by integrating with digital recognition using AI, remote care, remote consultation, 5G technology, high resolutions displays, and interactive displays. By integrating software and hardware and cooperation with HIS/PACS companies, we aim to provide efficiency improvements across the field and low-touch solutions and promote more combinations in the ecosystem.
- The precision diagnostic area includes biochips, genetic testing chips, and pulse diagnosis testing combined with traditional Chinese and Western medicine. We are geared towards sustainable and precise measurements, and miniaturized institutions, with AI technology for precision medical testing devices. By utilizing AUO’s photoelectric sensing technology, medical testing can be more scientific and precise.
AUO will collaborate with manufacturers in the display, optoelectronic technology, sensors, and AI-related technology areas. With respect to global partnerships, we have been in-depth in cooperation with many medical and long-term partners. AUO will act as a bridge and support startups that require technology and manufacturing capabilities, including the capital, and assist their entry into the global market.
The collaboration of Taiwan’s display industry and hospitals can drive both sectors’ transformation and up-gradation simultaneously. What are your expectations, and how will you make more people see your medical products’ strengths?
First, I value the opportunity of smart healthcare as it is a meaningful thing and has a significant impact on society. Population aging is an irrefutable fact in many developed countries. Therefore we might require more efficient medical resources in the future. This is where the display and ICT industries can help.
Second, AUO is a leading display company and has a high reputation in the ICT industry globally. We already serve the medical industry with our display products and technologies. Besides, AUO also has extensive international experience and can cooperate with leading global manufacturers to drive Taiwan’s medical innovation and industry integration in the world. Through our knowledge of globalization, we can help partners enter the global market.
Industrial associations also serve as an essential platform for cross-domain communication and cooperation. By fostering cooperation, we can increase Taiwan’s international visibility of the smart healthcare industry.
As far as 5G technologies are concerned, the market and politicians have led to the maturity of the infrastructure and technology with the potential to accelerate even further. Taiwan is already a leader in the ICT industry, whether it is computer communications, industrial computers, monitors, or other panels. At the same time, Taiwan’s medical care is also among the best in the world. Therefore, the integration of 5G and healthcare technology will enable the implementation of the digital tools in Taiwan’s medical field. We foresee smart healthcare as Taiwan’s next important industry, and I truly believe we can accelerate digital medical care and transform our lives.
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