Medtech, innovation

Keeping Patients in Mind: Demand for Digitization

By Dr. Lutz Retzlaff
Medtech, innovation

MEDICA Health IT Forum addresses workable solutions for device companies.

How are people responding to digitization in healthcare? During this year’s MEDICA forum session, “x-Health”, Professor Dr. Britta Böckmann from Information Sciences and Medical Information Sciences at Dortmund’s University of Applied Sciences, will look into patient needs and how current developments in the health sector should respond.

“E-Health, mHealth, telehealth—many deficiencies exist in Germany where data exchange and interoperability are concerned,” says Dr. Böckmann. “x-Health”, the interoperable exchange of location-independent digital services, is a rapidly growing international market. For example, all patients in Denmark have their own electronic health files. The portal, which was established in 2003, houses these files. More patients are using this method to access their information since personal Internet IDs, which can also be used for financial transactions in Denmark, were introduced. The project initially focused on making existing data available, but now applications have been developed to enable the Danish to add to their own data. Although patients will benefit from having their important data stored in one place, it must only be the patients who have the authority to release it to healthcare providers.

Will Doctor Shortage Accelerate Data Exchange?

The forum in Hall 15 is an established part of MEDICA, which takes place in Düsseldorf, Germany from November 14 – 17, 2016. The MEDICA HEALTH IT FORUM will address topics ranging from medical digitization, big data and personalized medicine to start-ups in the eHealth sector.The shortage of doctors and the challenge of providing good medical care in rural communities could boost technological improvements. Ulrike Röhr, Vice-President of the LandFrauenVerband Schleswig-Holstein (Country Women’s Association of Schleswig-Holstein), will use the MEDICA HEALTH IT FORUM to present the 2016/2017 health campaign to make all women living in rural communities aware of the opportunities in telemedicine. The LandFrauenVerband has more than 33,000 members who will meet with representatives from the State Chamber of Physicians at their nearly 180 local associations to talk about the potential impact if coverage by the network of general practitioners begins to deteriorate. The promise is that certain healthcare services, from measuring blood-sugar levels to taking a patient’s weight, could be provided with the aid of telemedicine without the need to go to the doctor’s office. Here’s the question: Will these new technologies completely eliminate personal contact with physicians? What technical requirements must met and what is the security level of the data transfer?

Innovation Fund

Created to help promote innovation in care and care research, the Innovation Fund was established by the German Federal Ministry of Health via the Federal Joint Committee. It has been awarded €300 million annually for the period of 2016 to 2019.

Dr. Thomas Aßmann is one of the grant applicants who will present his project at the MEDICA HEALTH IT FORUM. Aßmann wants to use his project to test the possible delegation of tasks to ‘Tele-VERAH’, a system where a medical professional in remote contact with the doctor attends patients. He thinks that eliminating time spent traveling, for example, would be an important argument for introducing such a system. It can take more than 20 minutes, for instance, for rural general practitioners to reach their patients. A ‘Tele-VERAH’ medical professional would instead attend patients on behalf of the doctor, having everything with him or her that a specialist in internal medicine would require (from ECG and lung-function testing equipment to blood-sugar-level testing devices and scales). All the data would be transferred back to the practice. If there are any remaining questions, the physician could be consulted live via video link to allow the doctor to see how the patient is responding.

This type of system could reduce the number of precautionary visits to emergency rooms emergency-services and help stop unnecessary admissions to hospitals, which would make the concept more economically appealing to insurance companies. The concept’s benefits:

  • Modern technologies are enabling physicians to work in rural areas, which is particularly appealing to young physicians
  • Quality of medical care in rural areas would be maintained
  • Occupational profile of medical professionals assisting general physicians (VERAHs) is widening

Aßmann believes that physicians and patients will be receptive to his idea. He wants the  service to be provided to existing patients with its potential future expansion into nursing homes and hospitals.

Run on Apps Raises Questions

Is every one of the estimated 100,000 health apps actually helpful, useful and/or effective? The ‘Chances and Risks of Mobile Health Apps survey recently looked at the range of available products. Dr. Urs-Vito Albrecht, deputy director of the Hanover Branch of the Peter L. Reichertz Institut für Medizinische Informatik (PLRI – Peter L. Reichertz Institute for Medical Informatics) and managing physician of the Ethics Commission at the Hannover Medical School, ran the study and carried out the survey on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Health.

It needs to be clarified whether and to what extent the medical community can help shape the orientation process, for instance, through the development of a general guideline for app assessment or the creation of an indication and best-practice list by the respective specialist associations. Freely available health apps are widely used in the secondary healthcare market, but they play a limited, if any, role in the primary health market that is funded by health insurance companies.

Prof. Dr. Britta Böckmann draws a rather sobering conclusion about the current state of xHealth. “Legally and theoretically, patients are in sole control of their details, but in reality they are unable to view them or pass them on.” Having the correct medical information at the right place and at the right time could, however, save lives: Patients are entitled to digitization.

All information about the MEDICA HEALTH IT FORUM’s program and topics are available online.

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Lutz Retzlaff