TechnikRadar 2021: Digitalisation is changing the doctor-patient relationship
Munich/Hamburg, 15 June 2021
Electronic patient record (ePA), telemedicine, digital connectivity of stakeholders: Germany is adopting the digitalisation of the healthcare system on a large scale. The TechnikRadar 2021, from acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering, Körber-Stiftung and Center for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Studies at the University of Stuttgart (ZIRIUS), surveys what the stakeholders expect from the digital transformation, how they assess the opportunities and risks, and what conflicts of objectives exist.
German healthcare is facing profound change – on this point doctors and representatives of hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and patient organisations agree. This is a finding of the TechnikRadar 2021 (Technology Radar), which this year analysed the views of stakeholders in healthcare.
The experts expect the digital transformation to fundamentally alter the doctor-patient relationship: doctors are becoming information brokers who not only make diagnoses but also have to process, appraise and set straight other information and data for patients. For patients, on the other hand, digitalisation holds out the prospect of enhancing their sovereignty: with patients increasingly doing their own research on health matters, they are better informed and can increasingly make more informed decisions. However, this new situation is also raising concerns among the interviewees about feeling powerless and about the depersonalisation of the health system.
Driving this change is health data, which will soon be available in greater volumes and quality owing to the introduction of the electronic patient record (ePA) and the digital networking of the health system. Patients are able to manage their health data themselves and decide what they are used for. Doctors, on the other hand, are able to analyse and compare data with the aid of artificial intelligence – the ultimate aim being to make better diagnoses and determine better-fitting therapy options. On that note, however, the experts surveyed emphasise that algorithms and artificial intelligence cannot and must not replace medical professionals; rather, they should be used to support them.
Digital health literacy: a key part of the health system of the future
“The digital transformation of healthcare will not just happen by itself. Both doctors and patients require digital health literacy skills to be able to appraise and use the new data-based knowledge. The more sovereignty we have over digital technologies, the greater the prospect of seeing a benefit in general and of more autonomy,” commented Cordula Kropp, Scientific Project Manager and sociologist from the Center for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Studies at the University of Stuttgart (ZIRIUS).
For example, patients as well as service providers must be informed that algorithms are “trained” on data. If the data are skewed, false results may arise. For example, medical studies are usually conducted on young, white, male subjects, i.e. with no regard for sex, age and ethnicity. If an AI draws conclusions on the basis of such skewed data, the results must be challenged and qualified accordingly.
“Health services, such as the use of algorithms for diagnosis or screening, have immense potential to enable people to live a healthier and safer life. However, at the same time, it is necessary to protect personal data and strictly regulate their commercial use. How we seize opportunities without losing sight of the risks is something we as a society should agree on as early as possible in the innovation process,” said Ortwin Renn, TechnikRadar Co-Project Manager and acatech Executive Board member.
Tatjana König, member of the Executive Board of Körber-Stiftung, pointed out that “Technological change can only be achieved with the involvement of people. They have to know what they are in for, what new possibilities and questions will arise as well as what decisions and skills will be required in the future. The digital transformation of healthcare will therefore only be successful if we keep all citizens fully informed as we go along. This is the very least we can do to avoid creating division in society.”