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Leveraging the Full Potential of Digital Solutions

EU-backed training on digital solutions in the healthcare industry

In January 2018, the Steinbeis Transfer Institute Therapeutic Communication and integrated Health Promotion embarked on a three-year project with twelve partner organizations from eight European countries. The project is called Digital Skills on Computational Biology for Health Professionals (BioS) and its aim is to support the use of digital resources in the health care market across Europe by developing module- based computational biology curricula for doctors and the teams they work with. The curricula will then be launched and introduced.

The project is receiving backing from the Erasmus+ program offered by the European Union and the aim is to take the everyday reality of medical practices and hospitals into account, particularly in light of European guidelines for the healthcare industry. The following factors and issues should be looked at: Digital transformation – i.e., the options for automatically processing large volumes of data – will lead to changes on a number of levels in the healthcare market, especially with respect to existing care structures, processes, and outcomes. Scenarios that are currently conceivable or have been suggested – due to their context, or for economic reasons – may turn out to be wishful thinking or just a one-way street. Given the current situation, continuous monitoring is required in the training and continuing professional development industry, and it will be necessary to overhaul procedures in order to empower teams of medics to improve their ability to exploit the full potential of digital transformation. They will also need to be able to recognize and avoid certain risks.

Telemedicine makes it possible to offer medical support at any time and in any place. Professional, specialized centers can offer services in all kinds of locations. There are also ways of using telemonitoring to continuously track vital statistics and offer corresponding therapeutic interventions that are matched to actual needs. Currently, there are only a small number of acknowledged evidence-based standards. There are also no established service models that would be compatible with procedures followed in medical practices and hospitals. Electronic patient records would also offer effective ways to enhance efficiency and quality – and could reduce healthcare expenditures. Once information has been gathered and logged, it can be accessed anytime and in any place, sidestepping the need to repeat examinations and helping ensure patients receive care in keeping with guidelines. Despite this, little has been undertaken either on a domestic or European level to ascertain how information should be structured or evaluated. With the number of patients with chronic conditions or multiple morbidities on the rise due to demographic trends, ultimately it will also be important that the evergrowing volumes of information are indeed suitably structured and evaluated, especially given the nature of such patients. It will also be necessary to avoid data being senselessly allowed to lie fallow. Instead, to improve efficiency and quality through information, data will have to be structured as uniformly as possible across Europe and made easy to access. For many medical teams and their partners, work is still needed to continually expand methodical data protection training. As a result, another project has been also proposed to the EU to deal with this specific aspect.

Predictive and customized medicine can help improve diagnostics and treatment by offering gene analysis and molecular biological procedures based on the processing of large volumes of data. Ideally, this would enhance prevention and appropriately customized diagnostics and treatments. The problem comes when diagnostics are not developed to the same extent as treatment options, because this raises a whole host of ethical issues. Suitable regulation will also be needed to avoid the misuse of predictive medicine. All of these new possibilities and the risks they involve require suitable training options, as is the objective with the BioS initiative.

It is likely that patients will be able to assume greater personal responsibility in the future due to the number of health apps now available, not to mention big data and algorithms. Quite possibly, people may also do more to look after or treat themselves. It is well known, however, that there could be correlation problems, and validating causal relationships is often problematic. As a result, how such solutions are used in practice will need to be supervised by doctors and possibly even controlled. This makes it essential that experts are sufficiently qualified to understand different developments.

The healthcare-related bioinformatics training offered at the beginning of the initiative will now be assessed as part of the BioS project. Until now, 52 official curricula are known to be on offer through BSc, MSc, or PhD programs, and these have been logged by the BioS partners for systematic evaluation. With the support of third-party specialists, the aim is also to conduct an in-depth analysis of identified evaluation parameters and a number of other factors by conducting surveys and interviews. A central pillar of this project will also be systematic literature research in this area. Since early May, relevant national and international events have also been looked into through active or passive participation. This is part of a general dissemination plan to capture specific events and pave the way for the experts to discuss and try out their own training ideas themselves. The Steinbeis Transfer Institute Therapeutic Communication and integrated Health Promotion has been asked to coordinate the overall organization of the project, although it is also helping with all other project deliverables such as selling, course development, course implementation, and quality assurance.

Overall, equipping people with the skills they need to understand the opportunities and threats of digital transformation requires high competence levels, not just when it comes to development, but also with respect to application and deciding which digital solutions should be used. Universities, medical associations, specialist societies, important networks, and product providers have therefore already been approached as part of future training initiatives and invited to become project partners. Politicians, convention agencies, and a whole variety of training providers are also promoting and leveraging the digitalization megatrend for their own purposes. A number of studies now offer new insights into the additional (or sometimes even inadequate) benefits of digital developments. The initiative sees the confusion this creates in this area as an incentive to systematically pull together, pool, evaluate and if necessary test and use such offerings as a modular (fundamental) bioinformatics curriculum for medical practitioners throughout Europe.