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Technology

Digital Human Helps Hearts

By Johanna Cano, posted Nov 15, 2019
On the first day of the Cucalorus Connect conference, attendees got to meet Hanna, a digital human cardiac coach, developed by Marie Johnson and a team at NHRMC. (Image c/o NHRMC)
This year’s Cucalorus Connect Conference brings in speakers from Wilmington and all over the world to discuss how innovative technology can address economic, personal, health and societal issues.
 
Two topics at the conference, from Nov. 14-15 at the Brooklyn Arts Center, include how two Wilmington organizations are using artificial intelligence and the latest software.
 
On Nov. 14, Wilmington residents got to meet and learn about Hanna, a digital human cardiac coach.
 
Hanna is the work of Marie Johnson, managing director at Centre for Digital Business in Australia, and Chris Hillier, New Hanover Regional Medical Center executive director of innovation and a team at NHRMC.
 
The digital human’s name, “Hanna,” is a take on “Hanover.”
 
Johnson, who led a session Thursday on “Digital Humans in Healthcare,” said the idea to develop Hanna came from her and her husband’s struggle to understand medication and instruction after his four heart surgeries.
 
“Even with all our skills and experience, we struggled with all the complex health information and not being able to understand it and with nobody to talk to when really needed it,” Johnson said. “We came up with the idea of having a digital human to talk to over and over again whenever you needed cardiac health information.”
 
Having already worked on another digital human, Nadia, who helps those with disabilities, Johnson thought she could apply the same artificial intelligence technology to help cardiac patients.
 
The service that Hanna can provide is only conversational. She is unable to diagnose or treat patients, but rather, is designed to answer questions that patients might have during recovery and take some burden off health care professionals, Johnson said.
 
“People are able to talk with it just using what we call lounge-room language, ordinary everyday language,” Johnson said. “The conversation design of Hanna is meant to be very natural, using everyday words.”
 
To speak with Hanna, patients would need a laptop or iPad.
 
Hanna has been in the works since January and is still in the early stages of development.
 
“The idea of a launch with these types of human-like systems is a little different because these systems continue to learn. So, it’s not like we’re going to have all these conversations already lined up,” Johnson said. “Hanna will be progressively and continually developed.”
 
Presenting Hanna to an audience at Cucalorus allows her to raise awareness of work that Hillier and NHRMC are part of.
 
“What we see is AI actually enabling people when they’re either traumatized or disadvantaged. It helps people in overcoming barriers in order to be able to access services, and to independently make decisions about things,” Johnson said.
 
Another Wilmington organization is also using technology to better serve its clients.
 
Jennifer Manocchio, president of Sweeney, a marketing agency with a location in Wilmington, led a session Nov. 15 on martech.
 
“Martech is any technology that marketing, communications and PR specialists can use to achieve marketing objectives and goals,” Manocchio said.
 
Many of those technologies are delivered through software as a service (SaaS), where companies pay an annual fee to use it, and provide a variety of marketing tools.
 
Some include Emma, an email marketing platform, Sprout Social for social media management and can be more comprehensive like Salesforce, a customer relationship management software.
 
The great thing about the current digital age is that there is a lot of data out there that can be used by marketers, she said.
 
“For me the exciting part about martech is it helps us do our jobs better,” Manocchio said. “So, we can be more educated when we’re developing marketing communication campaigns. And then also there’s a lot more out there now that helps us track the results.”
 
With martech, however, people should not forget that they are only tools and cannot substitute the creative work that a marketer does.
 
“Martech is here to help us. It’s not replacing our jobs,” she said. “As marketing, PR and communication professionals, we still have to understand how to use the tools, why we’re using the tools and it’s never going to replace creativity and strategy.”
 
Manocchio, who has been in the marketing space for 18 years, said she hopes attendees at her Cucalorus Connect session learn what martech is and how to choose from the plethora of platforms available.
 
“What’s exciting about marketing in today’s space is that we have so many different ways to target our audiences, but that’s also the challenge,” she said. “Our industry in the marketing space has been changing drastically. And it’s not stopping; it’s just continuing to evolve and continuing to change.”
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