An interview with Professor Dr. med. Daniel König, Steinbeis Entrepreneur at the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Health Promotion and Metabolism Research
Digital technology plays an important role in medicine. It’s particularly important to manage data properly so that people’s fears that they might become “transparent patients” do not become reality. Professor Dr. med. Daniel König, Steinbeis expert in health promotion and metabolic research, spoke to TRANSFER magazine about the most important milestones in the introduction of digital technology in medicine, as well as opportunities and threats. He also discussed how despite the multitude of possibilities opened up by digital solutions, face-to-face contact between doctors and patients is still crucial.
Hello Professor König. The introduction of digital technology to medicine has resulted in sweeping changes. What do you consider the most important milestones? And what changes should we prepare for in the near future?
In the area I specialize in, I would draw a line around diagnostics, therapy, and the development or implementation of digital intervention concepts.
When it comes to diagnostics, I would particularly highlight monitoring of the cardiovascular functions and metabolism. I’m referring here to things like new tools for capturing and documenting laboratory measurements. But here too, emerging technology and telematic infrastructures are leading to an increasing number of improvements in the diagnosis of cardiac arrhythmia.
In terms of therapy, the main area of development is telemedicine; in other words at least some parts of the consultation process of physicians and the interaction between patients and doctors can now take place through digital technology. Some of this communication is accompanied by the aforementioned diagnostic tools. The current coronavirus pandemic has opened up a number of new possibilities and opportunities, but it’s also highlighted limitations, especially if you think about actual testing.
In terms of intervention, online education and intervention programs are increasingly exploring new avenues and allowing healthy people – but also patients on secondary prevention programs – to improve their health by making use of online healthcare options.
What opportunities, but also what challenges will these developments present us with? And how does this affect your day-to-day work?
The opportunities clearly lie in the possibilities to optimize diagnostics and therapy. Despite this, digital technology should only be seen as a support for medical treatment or the doctor-patient relationship. If you place too much emphasis on trying to digitalize things, important aspects of a condition or staying healthy could get sidelined. So you must never forget that visiting doctors in person, talking to people, and being examined by a physician will always be an important aspect of diagnosis and therapy.
Although a lot of progress has been made when it comes to data privacy, protecting personal information is still an area of risk. Even though a great deal is being undertaken to stop the often quoted “transparent patient” becoming reality, people still have concerns, especially when it comes to cloud-based, decentralized data processing, or sharing information via social media.
Your Steinbeis Enterprise has worked a lot in the area of healthcare promotion. What influence will digital solutions have on your work in this area?
One of the areas we work on is the impact of lifestyles on health risks for people with cardiovascular conditions or Type 2 diabetes. Using activity monitors provides you with lots of options for carrying out assessments, but also for making interventions. But this doesn’t only apply to making diagnostic assessments. Making evaluations directly available to users in the form of digital training or online coaching sessions is an excellent opportunity to improve their behavior.
Turning to big data – it’s becoming possible to gather and connect up more and more medical data, to the benefit of both patients and medical research. But managing this kind of highly sensitive patient records also raises many ethical issues. In your opinion, is there a good way to solve this issue to the satisfaction of all parties?
When you’re handling highly sensitive patient records, you must have clear rules in place for certain aspects in advance and these have to be communicated. How will data be gathered? It must be completely clear where information will be stored, who will have access to it, and who can and may be permitted to analyze data. It must and should not be allowable to ask patients for permission until they have been fully informed. If you’re conducting a study or gathering large volumes of data, for example to track personal activity, so-called pseudonymization must be used to make it impossible to work out the identity of individuals.
Many of these aspects are already covered in detail by the General Data Protection Regulations. If you look after patients properly or conduct clinical studies responsibly, many of these data protection issues will already be dealt with in sufficient detail. But as we saw with all the recent discussion on data privacy for the coronavirus app, time and again new issues come up and these have to be discussed and taken into account.
Prof. Dr. med. Daniel König (author)
Steinbeis Transfer Center Health Promotion and Metabolism Research (Freiburg)