How a start-up from Aachen wants to change intensive care medicine

Clinomic has developed Mona, an AI designed to help doctors. The corona pandemic has given the young company a strong push.

Mona doesn't leave her patients' side, can see them at all times, and when the doctors hurl questions at her about vital signs, she trumpets the current situation in the patients' bodies right away.

Mona is, there's no mistaking it, not a human assistant, but a digital one. Founded in 2019, the start-up Clinomic from Aachen has developed the artificially intelligent assistant over the past few years and brought it to market. What started out as a small spin-off from RWTH Aachen University is now a full-fledged company with around 50 employees and an eight-figure funding sum, which the company has collected. Most recently, another seven million euros

was added.

The original idea is relatively simple: doctors today are much smarter than in the past because they have more data - but at the same time overwhelmed by the flood of information. As a rule, the dozens of machines produce about 1,000 data points per hour for an intensive care patient, which is almost impossible for a doctor to keep track of, says Arne Peine, one of the six founders. "Today, doctors handwrite down the most important data to even be up to date. That's crazy and costs a lot of time."

"Today, doctors handwrite down the most important data to even be up to date. This is crazy and costs a lot of time"

Arne Peine, Co-Founder Clinomic

Mona, the heart of Clinomics, is supposed to put an end to this madness, or so the vision goes. The digital assistant looks like an overgrown tablet hanging from a pivoting arm, a display in front, plus eight microphones, various speakers. Also built in are a 180-degree camera, a 5G antenna, AI chips and a touch display.

Mona collects data from the machines around it, processes it, and uses algorithms to calculate how each value is likely to evolve in the coming hours. If a value becomes important according to her calculation in eight hours, she tells the doctor. To do this, an algorithm decides which values are really important and picks them out for him. If the doctor wants to write something down, he or she can dictate it to Mona. "The clipboard is still standard in many hospitals, but it's long out of date. Mona is changing that," says co-founder Peine.

This is what Mona looks like. (Photo: Clinomic)

Peine himself is a trained intensive care physician, so he knows the needs of local doctors. In 2019, he and his five co-founders dared to take the step into self-employment. Initially, they squatted on each other in a much too small room in Aachen, their start was financed by the public sector and also the European Union. Later, the founders raised further money, which made it possible to put their device into series production as well. "The first machines here were assembled by five engineers with a screwdriver, it's all much more professional now," says Arne Peine.

"The first machines here were assembled by five engineers with a screwdriver, it's all much more professional now"

Arne Peine, Co-Founder Clinomic

This is evident in the latest order, which comes directly from the European Union. 200 devices they are to deliver to eight countries to fight the pandemic. Mona will be used to monitor patients, but will also provide telemedical support to the professionals. This means doctors who are not on site can look at intensive care patients, view their data and thus help in decision-making. Especially in hospitals far from big cities or even on islands, the necessary staff is not always on site, Peine says. When the corona pandemic broke out, the EU Commission sat down with Clinomic and asked them to deliver Mona to remote regions like the island of Madeira off the coast of Portugal. In general, he said, demand for Mona surged during the Corona crisis, with hundreds of devices ordered. "We were barely keeping up with deliveries," Peine says.

This is what Mona should look like at the patient bedside. (Photo: Clinomic)

In addition to the day-to-day challenges of any startup, Clinomic operates in a highly sensitive area, one that deeply invades patient privacy and requires a corresponding amount of protection. Already in the past, hospitals have been hacked, their data locked or read. None of that should ever happen to Clinomic, which uses the 180-degree camera at Mona to record patients, among other things. "We have therefore completely abandoned the idea of a cloud. It makes everything more complicated, but there's no other way," says Peine.

What he means is that in the cloud, speech recognition, for example, could be improved much faster and other computing capacities could be accessed. Instead, Mona moves with its data only within the hospital walls, has no connection to the outside. "That's how we make sure no one on the outside can hack in," Peine says.

Mona is not meant to replace the doctor, by the way. Mona, Peine stresses, will always remain a referral system, not one that makes decisions or gives a drug on its own. Mona, that makes Clinomic boss Peine clear, so the doctor only make more effective.

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