For the Tenth Time: Life Science meets Digital
“Building Health Ecosystems – Sharing for Better Health.” The 10th edition of “Life Science meets Digital”, taking this statement as its theme, was held at Telekom headquarters on November 12. This initiative, called to life by Detecon and others, sees itself as a cross-company and cross-industry network bringing together experts from the pharmaceutical, health care, and digitalization industries for an open interchange of ideas and thoughts and for laying the groundwork for cooperative projects. This year’s event drew about 90 participants from almost 30 companies and institutions with the declared purpose at this conference of discussing above all the benefits and necessity of health ecosystems.
Dr. Andreas Amann (Detecon) and Dirk Natho (T-Systems) established the event in 2013 under the name “Pharma meets Telco”; since then, the meeting has been held twice a year at changing venues. “The objective is to improve the quality of medical and pharmaceutical care with the aid of digital solutions,” noted Andreas Amann, Partner and Director of the sector “Pharma & Health” at Detecon, in his opening remarks at the beginning of the event, when he introduced the theme of the conference: “Building Health Ecosystems – Sharing for Better Health.”
“How can we convince patients to take full advantage of new services? By keeping in mind that the patients will also move around in ecosystems and will not use only one single solution,” Amann continued. Another characteristic of ecosystems is that they unify pre-competitive functions as well as competitive features with one another. “It makes little sense for each individual player to create its own billing solution or its own consent management,” emphasized Amann. ”Resource sharing is the far more efficient and patient-centric road to take.”
“A smart hospital needs leaders, not bosses”
During the first keynote address, Dr. Jochen A Werner, professor and director of the University Hospital Essen, gave a vivid description of what the smart hospital of the future might look like. As an example, he described the current structure of a digital service and information center. It is intended to serve as a communications portal for patients and family members, and in the final phase of its expansion, it will encompass the entire hierarchy in the clinic as well as access to the electronic patient file. In addition, a data trust center is in the establishment phase; it will secure the transfer at the highest level of security of high-quality diagnostics data from various departments to a research pool.
“Care activities focus far too much on documentation requirements at the moment,” was his criticism. “Digital processes, on the other hand, make it possible to dedicate substantially more attention to patients,” stated Professor Werner. “While medicine has advanced rapidly in recent years – functional imaging in radiology is just one example – operational management in hospitals is still often stuck in sluggish structures. There is a danger that this gap will continue to widen,” warned Professor Werner. “A smart hospital concept must first and foremost address the hospital culture and the hierarchy, which is generally oriented to a sharp peak at the top. A smart hospital needs leaders, not bosses! The most important goals are to take seriously the needs of patients, their family members, and the institution’s own employees and to improve their situations.”
Talks and panel discussions alternated with one another. In the first of three expert panel discussions, facilitated by Dr. Oliver Müller, Partner in the sector Pharma & Health at Detecon (far right in the picture), the panel members were (left to right) Professor Werner (UK Essen), Dr. Christoph Meyer-Delpho (T-Systems), Uwe Diegel (healthbank), and Dr. André T. Nemat (University of Witten-Herdecke). The experts on the panel agreed that patient data are of enormous value for medical research and should therefore be converted into a form that can be used for this purpose. An open digital health ecosystem in which a broad range of companies and institutions from the health and ICT sectors participate together could make a major contribution here. At the same time, attention must be focused on patients; they must always have complete control and transparency regarding who they share their data with and what happens with these data. “We must not forget: patients are themselves in nearly all cases prepared to share their health and illness data as long as they know why they are sharing these data and what benefits they can expect from doing so,” said Uwe Diegel from healthbank.
In the next discussion panel, (left to right) facilitator Dr. Lutz Groh (InDIG e.V., formerly Bayer AG), Thomas Kleine (Pfizer), Damjan Stamcar (Sony), and Birgit Fischer, former Minister of Health in North Rhine-Westphalia and currently general manager of vfa (German Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies), took the perspective of the industry. “New digital processes in health care cannot be established on a ‘stand-alone’ basis. All players are called upon to seek a common ground and to keep an open mind to a completely new form of interaction. There is also the need to work with the political establishment to develop strategies and visions and to open up room for experimentation for digital innovation, systematically and across regional borders,” according to Birgit Fischer.
“As a research company, we definitely do not perceive digital medical technology as a disruptive and threatening scenario,” emphasized Thomas Kleine from Pfizer. “In fundamental terms, innovations with an eye on the well-being of patients are always welcome. Indeed, we want to enrich our traditional activities with digital solutions and business models,” Kleine continued. He sees digital challenges as an opportunity and stimulus for change: “The aim must be to position ourselves well so that we can interact constructively within an ecosystem – with a startup, for instance.”
“When we consider that it will soon be possible to produce pills using 3-D printing, the pharmaceutical industry is certainly going to have to change its way of thinking,” Damjan Stamcar from Sony pointed out. “Health care services will sooner or later definitely have to supplement the straightforward manufacture of medicines and medical care. And many of these services will enjoy digital support,” stated Stamcar.
Mark Düsener, head of the portfolio unit “Health” at T-Systems, also focused on interconnectivity aspects in his keynote address entitled “Life is for Sharing”. He illuminated important activities of the Telekom health division such as the starting rollout of the telematics infrastructure in doctor’s offices or the virtual reality game “Sea Hero Quest” that is used in support of dementia research. Moreover, he advocated the sharing economy and pointed out fundamental principles that must be observed, namely, customer and patient centricity as well as security and trust.
“Ideas worth sharing”: Throughout the day, numerous concrete ideas and initiatives for the health care industry were presented in short pitches scheduled in the intervals between the panel discussions. Uwe Diegel, CEO of Lifeina, for instance, displayed a small cooler that makes it possible for users to travel to any desired destination, yet keep their medicines readily available and always at the right temperature. Vladimir Puhalac, managing director of doob group, demonstrated the opportunities of virtual reality: using personal avatars, physicians and patients can be brought together in virtual rooms despite being physically separated by great distances to talk about preventive measures, ECG or sleep data, or other issues. The advances being made in virtual reality imaging, especially in the real-time realization of facial expressions and gestures of a person, are opening up completely new dimensions here and make it possible to experience an extraordinarily real, visual, and even emotionally tangible discussion. Uri Basanov from Mellitus Health, Inc., described a software solution that enables physicians to control insulin dosages especially precisely. And Damjan Stamcar from Sony presented a medical tracking solution that aids hospital personnel in determining the location of medical equipment such as ultrasound or patient monitors or even wheelchairs and beds quickly and at any time.
Blockchain could reduce health care costs
Dr. Michel Goldman (professor from I3Health), Uwe Diegel (Lifeina), and Dr. David Matusiewicz (professor from the FOM University of Applied Sciences) took a look at the international prospects of health ecosystems during the concluding panel discussion. Professor Goldman, former executive director of IMI (Innovative Medicines Initiative of the EU), had previously sketched out many different approaches for the involvement of patients (e.g., with wearable devices) during another keynote address. Such activities would provide important new ideas for support in preventive care and health promotion from the acquired data.
“The easiest way to save money in health care is to make more effective preventive care possible,” according to Goldman. “Chronic illnesses in particular are treated well, but rarely healed. This makes prevention all the more important.” When more and more digital aids such as smart watches or digital stethoscopes make it possible for people to determine themselves the first signs of cardiac arrhythmia, for instance, they become even more conscious of the impact of a healthy lifestyle. But digital help for daily life is advancing even further. In the USA, the first pills containing digital sensor technology that notifies physicians whether the medicine has actually been taken have been approved. This would not only improve therapy compliance, but reduce health care costs as well. And these costs can be reduced even further – another example from Professor Goldman – if blockchain technology were introduced to applications for the conduct of clinical studies.
When, looking ahead into the future, facilitator Dirk Natho asked how he assessed the level of the sharing economy in the health care sector, Professor Matusiewicz answered: “I could imagine in the future an age of the sharing economy, a time when patients become aware of the value of their own health data and exchange these data for services or even use them for payment. From an international perspective, this could be the next step. Many people in underdeveloped countries have little money, but they have health data.”
Plenty of opportunity for interaction with audiences was given at all the events, not only at the last discussion. The numerous questions, such as those about effective incentivization for health lifestyles, and suggestions revealed how great the potential for and interest in digitalized health care are. Interchange and networking continue: The next Life Science meets Digital (#11) will presumably take place in March 2019.