Everyone is talking healthcare – we’re (also) talking technology!
Following the successful kick-off in late 2019 of the #techourfuture series of events on current and future developments in the field of autonomous flying, the second event organized by the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute (FSTI) in the summer of 2020 looked at the future of our health – excellent timing, even if the planned event format had to be adapted somewhat. Several online events were organized over the course of three weeks to give participants an opportunity to discuss future technology in the field of health and medicine, and enter into a virtual dialog with experts.
The Technologie*Begreifen (“Grasp Technology”) initiative is sponsored by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry for Economic Affairs, and even though the topics it focuses on were defined long before the coronavirus pandemic, the issues discussed at the most recent event – healthcare and medicine – could hardly have been more appropriate. The measures introduced to slow the pandemic mainly revolved around restricting social and physical contacts, leading to a number of economic hardships. At the same time, the exceptional circumstances highlighted a number of opportunities offered to our society and business by digital technology, and everyday advantages offered by new technology. Not only was there an exponential rise in people using digital communication and collaboration technology to work effectively from home, in the field of healthcare increasing use was made of the possibilities offered by telemedicine – by patients themselves, or to prepare digital anamneses before visiting a doctor. Increasing use is being made of robots to disinfect and clean hospitals (for example in Denmark), distribute drugs, or gather medical data, as is the case in a fully automated hospital in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The interplay between medicine, people, and technology
The FSTI team that ran the #techourfuture event on The Future of Healthcare – Medicine, People, Technology examined the impact of emerging tech in the fields of healthcare and medicine in Germany, also asking whether the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the use of new technology. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, especially physical distancing rules, the second event in the #techourfuture series could not take place as originally planned with actual people present (at Pforzheim University in March 2020), but was rearranged as an online event series as part of the #techourfuture weeks from June 26 until July 17, 2020. Using virtual means, the participants were organized into three “tracks” and given the opportunity to get to know emerging technology close-up in the fields of healthcare and medicine – including how it works. There was also a chance to discuss opportunities and threats of the new tech with experts from science and business. The proceedings were streamed live by the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute from the Haus der Wirtschaft (House of Commerce) in Stuttgart and a studio in Ludwigsburg.
“At a time when all the talk is of the COVID-19 app in Germany, but it’s not on every cell phone or being used by everyone, it makes you realize how important it is to be able to get a detailed picture of the possibilities and progress offered to healthcare by digital technology. That’s why my interest was immediately piqued by the event, and its emphasis on the IoT – or the IoMT, the internet of medical things – and AI in medicine. The online approach made it uncomplicated for me to take part and the whole event was free from COVID-19 risks! The talks exceeded my expectations,” says one participant about the series of events.
Track A: Healthily Networked
The first topic of the #techourfuture weeks on the future of healthcare was Healthily Networked. Professor Dr. Sascha Seifert, who lectures on pharmaceutical medical computer science and bioinformatics at Pforzheim University, explained how wearables such as bracelets and smartwatches work, allowing wearers to measure their own vital signs and monitor their health. The term “wearables” also refers to medical devices, however, such as hearing aids and heart pacemakers, which are increasingly being connected up with one another through the internet of things.
Developments in the field of artificial intelligence are becoming increasingly useful for physicians in making therapy decisions. Dr. Tobias Preckel, a medical technology expert at Pforzheim University, explained how far self-learning diagnostic assistance systems had already come in providing important help in the everyday life of doctors, especially in the field of oncology.
Track B: O.R. 4.0 and Forecasting Pandemics
The series of events continued with the topic of O.R. 4.0 and Forecasting Pandemics. The emphasis during this part lay in the role played by robots in surgical procedures. Professor Dr. med. Stephan Kruck, Head of Urology at the Center for minimal-invasive Therapy and Urological Robotics at Siloah St. Trudpert Hospital in Pforzheim, provided the participants with a number of insights into the “intelligent O.R.” and gave an enlightening talk on the conditions under which robots are already used in the O.R., as well as the advantages they offer. Professor Dr. Raphael Volz, who lectures on applied computer science at Pforzheim University, then introduced the models that are used to predict case numbers arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as application examples and their limitations.
Track C: Everyday Healthcare
For the final event, attention turned to everyday healthcare. This part of the series was moderated by Stefan Lob, a systemic coach and managing director of consulting firm Praxis für Führung – X.0. To do this, Lob invited five experts to present current trends in the fields of telemedicine and robots used in nursing.
Dr. Matthias Proske, Director of the Northern Black Forest Regional Association, and Professor Dr. Joachim E. Fischer, Director of the Mannheim Institute of Public Health, Social, and Preventive Medicine at the University of Mannheim, drew on their experience with the Digital Black Forest citizen participation program and described the particular demands of providing healthcare services in rural areas, as well as the help offered by digital solutions. Surgeon Angelika Walliser presented a number of actual telemedicine cases she has consulted on in recent months as part of the docdirekt project, including a patient from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Dr. med. Thomas Wüst, who runs a private orthopedic practice, explained how holistic patient care can be improved by using recently developed technology. Matthias Struck, deputy head of smart sensing and electronics at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in Erlangen, concluded the event by examining the role played by sensors and robots in day-to-day patient care: Robots are already in a position to enable new interactive approaches to the therapy of children with limited emotional abilities. In the future, there could quite conceivably be assistance systems for patients with dementia, believes Struck.
Getting a Grasp of Technology
The aim of the Technologie*Begreifen project sponsored by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labor, and Housing is not only to share what is called “linear knowledge” of future technology, but also to make current and future applications more tangible for the population – and to get people talking about them. Experiencing technology through a standard PC, laptop, or smartphone certainly has limitations at the moment. Nonetheless, even online there were lively discussions, an indication that there is a need and interest in actively thinking about future technology.
Given the current status of technology, the only senses that can be used to perceive what is happening are sight and hearing (although the next #techourfuture event may require use of the taste buds), but hopefully it will soon be possible to allow future technology to be experienced in a more realistic way again, in a more fitting setting. After the past events on the future of autonomous flying and the future of healthcare, #techourfuture enters its third round in the fall by focusing on the topic of The Future of Nutrition – Looking Beyond the Horizon. Why not join us as we examine in detail the future of nutrition, personalized and gene-edited food products, and meat from the laboratory.
Points of view
What impact does emerging technology have on healthcare and medicine? We asked different participants of the #techourfuture event for their opinion.
Katrin Tomaschko | e-Health expert at AOK Baden-Wuerttemberg
“Digital solutions shouldn’t just be used for the sake of it, but only when there’s a real opportunity to improve care.”
Jonas Sewing | Director of the Diakonissen Foundation Hospital in Speyer
“Running a hospital will be significantly different in the future compared to the way it is in 2020. The advent of robots will be particularly noticeable, whether that involves autonomous nursing carts or humanoid robots. Health workers will be given new tools to manage everyday tasks. So it will be particularly important to gain the buy-in of patients and staff.”
Dr. Christiane Kohler-Weiß | Head of Theology and Education, Social Welfare Services of the Protestant Churches in Wuerttemberg
“Digital transformation offers a diversity of opportunities to social services. Digital technology can make people who require care feel more confident about taking charge of their lives, encourage more people with disabilities to get involved, lighten the load on nursing staff or family members caring for relatives, and make processes more effective.”
Prof. Dr. Dr. Sabine Meck | Steinbeis Entrepreneur at the Steinbeis Transfer Institute for Personality Research and Ethics
“The digital revolution presents all stakeholders with significant ethical challenges, particularly the provision of healthcare services. As a result, one of the major tasks of ethics may be to think about the dignity and well-being of people, just as much as the importance of trust, which is fundamental to health – which means the physical, mental, and social well-being of the individual.”
Prof. Dr. Jörg Hübner | Managing Director of Protestant Academy Bad Boll
“Whether AI becomes a curse or a blessing depends on what we do with the technology and how we shape and influence it! Society still bears a responsibility for managing this technology, as does the individual.”
Dr. Dietmar Merz | Director of studies for medicine and healthcare policy at Protestant Academy Bad Boll
“It would surely be wrong to categorically reject every example of progress in the field of digital tech. But I find it equally wrong to simply go along with every step of modernization without checking or challenging things. What matters for me is asking what is really useful for life and people.”
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