There are in fact researchers who are already working on this technology. In the future, they are hoping it will enable them to lessen the effects of brain diseases, visual disorders, paralysis, and depression.
Scientists worldwide are working on a number of research projects to reproduce human tissue, bones, skin or even entire organs in a kind of 3D printer.
Would you ask a hospital chat robot questions about your diagnosis rather than waiting for the doctors to visit you?
Initial applications of this kind already exist. Chat robots based on artificial intelligence could relieve the strain on doctors in the future by providing patients and their families with information.
Would you allow your surgeon located 1,000 km away and controlling the scalpel via the internet to operate on you?
The rollout of new 5G network technology means this scenario is no longer the stuff of science fiction. In fact, the first live operation via the internet was performed in 2019.
Digitalization is rapidly revolutionizing the health care system. Scientists are currently conducting research into treatments that, until recently, sounded like something out of a science fiction movie. Let’s take a look at the opportunities and risks of the digital revolution in medicine.
The opportunities …
Over the past 150 years, medical progress has brought us breakthroughs such as the invention of X-ray technology, the discovery of penicillin, and the first organ transplants. Many experts believe far greater progress awaits in the years ahead.
High-performance computers can evaluate huge volumes of data in no time at all (this is called “big data”) and, by doing so, help speed up the development of new treatments or drugs. Thanks to big data, researchers in the USA have discovered that a drug used for patients with depression could also help treat a specific form of lung cancer for example.
Imagine wearing a tiny device on your body that analyzes your genetic predisposition, your physical condition, and your behavior. It could raise the alarm before you suffer a heart attack or develop diabetes. Although no such device exists as yet, today’s smartwatches can already warn wearers if, for instance, they have an irregular heartbeat.
3Better health care
If you live in the countryside or on an island, the family doctor is often some distance away. Telemedicine offers a solution in such cases. Cutting-edge blood pressure devices and pacemakers can automatically transmit data to the doctor, while video consultations help decide whether an actual visit is necessary.
The ability of artificial intelligence (AI) to evaluate large volumes of data in fractions of a second means, for instance, that AI could compare X-rays or CT scans in global databases and help achieve a reliable diagnosis far faster. According to initial studies, for example, AI can help doctors detect skin cancer using photos of suspicious changes to the skin.
Digitalization promises many new treatment options in the future. A few examples are robots that help with operations, tiny microrobots that move through our bloodstream recording values such as blood pressure, and the use of virtual reality to treat diseases such as dementia or Parkinson’s.
6More efficient processes
State-of-the-art technology is already relieving the strain on staff at medical practices and hospitals. Digital treatment and patient data is available at the touch of a button, and medical devices can be equipped with tiny transmitters so that everyone always knows exactly where they are currently in use. All kinds of other possibilities are also conceivable in the future, such as robots reliably taking blood samples from patients.
7Better nursing care
In the case of nursing and geriatric care, too, robots controlled by AI could take over heavy physical work such as washing, turning, and lifting patients. This would give nursing staff more time to attend to individual patient needs. Rehabilitation robots that help stroke victims, for example, regain their mobility are another potential application.
8Risk and side effects
Does this technological progress therefore really promise mankind the chance of a longer, healthier life? Or should we be worried that the technology will be misused? However, risks and side effects cannot be ruled out when it comes to the digital future of medicine.
… and the risks
Despite all of the advantages, we cannot lose sight of the risks associated with the digitalization of the healthcare sector.
1Farewell to privacy?
Health is a private matter. Our health data accompanies us throughout our lives and is not interchangeable. None of us would want it to influence employers’ staffing decisions or be used by insurance companies to calculate their premiums, so it must be clearly regulated who is allowed to access which data – and who isn’t. This is a task for companies and, above all, for legislators.
2Hacker attacks on our health?
Health data is valuable. Hackers can steal sensitive data and hold the victims to ransom. They can also put people’s lives at risk by paralyzing the infrastructure of hospitals or medical practices. When developing new health system technologies, it is therefore vital to include effective IT security solutions in the planning from the outset.
3Is technology infallible?
To err is human, as the saying goes, which means artificial intelligence is not infallible either. Algorithms learn using the data provided and recognize patterns in this data. The quality of the algorithm’s results ultimately depends on how it is trained – by humans. The criteria based on which algorithms make decisions must therefore meet ethical and legal requirements.
4Do robots make you lonely?
No machine can replace human contact, and such contact is particularly important to people who are old or sick. Consequently, robots can complement doctors, nurses, and carers, but not replace them. Clear rules are required for their use to ensure technical progress does not exacerbate the problem of loneliness.
This entails a number of basic prerequisites
1Discussing ethical issues
How much digitalization do we want to allow in the health sector? How can we ensure the focus is always on human well-being? Questions of this kind need to be discussed in a wide social dialog and joint solutions found.
2Breaking down technical barriers
The prerequisites in this case are an extensive high-performance network infrastructure and cutting-edge technology in both health care institutions and private households.
Everyone has the right to protection of their personal data. This must be ensured – and not only with technological means. We need legal conditions that minimize the risk of data misuse without impeding progress.
4Building up expertise
Innovative technologies can only realize their full potential if all users handle them correctly. Medical staff in particular must be given comprehensive training on the use of new technologies.
We need to talk about exactly what digital responsibility can look like. No one individual can decree it – no one company, no one institution, no one government. We can only develop digital responsibility together. Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Höttges
Right into the living room
“Your vitals are fine. You don’t need to worry.” Karin Müller is relieved about the good news from her family doctor. She signs off and switches off the tablet PC. That’s because she’s sitting in her living room and has just had a video chat with her doctor.
The future is now
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic brought public life to a virtual standstill for weeks on end. In some areas, however, the virus made things move faster, and that includes the digitalization of the health care system. According to a study conducted in spring 2020 by the Health Innovation Hub of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Health and the Public Health Foundation, 52.3 percent of doctors surveyed offered video consultations. This compares with a figure of just 1.8 percent in 2017. Psychotherapists, physicians in private practice, and general practitioners are making particular use of such consultations.
For the benefit of patients
“Online house calls” save patients long trips to the doctor. Digital platforms also make work easier for doctors and care staff.
The TH360 telehealth platform links hospitals, doctors, care staff, and patients in East Saxony. For instance, patients who have suffered a stroke can be remotely monitored by their physicians and their hospital stays reduced. The platform also allows them to receive care in their home environment.
At the St. Georg hospital in Leipzig, the Antibiotikanetzwerk Sachsen (ABNW, Saxony Antibiotics Network) is being created in collaboration with general practitioners and hospital physicians. The digital diagnostic and consulting office helps doctors use antibiotics responsibly and treat infections.
The hospital information system from Telekom Healthcare, iMedOne, forms the basis for connected work in clinics. In South Africa, the international version of the system is already being used in four clinics in the Western Cape region.
Together with IBM and Capsule Technologies, we developed the first mobile digital patient record for Africa. It not only contains important patient data, it can also automatically record data from medical equipment such as ventilators or dialysis machines.
Everything is connected …
Nobody likes going to hospital, especially when medical staff are overworked and there are long waiting times. By supporting these staff, intelligent hospital systems such as iMedOne from Deutsche Telekom can help improve patient care. By the end of 2019, iMedOne was already installed in some 230 hospitals, where it allows all key processes to be digitized. Treatment and patient data is shared via secure data networks, is available to all treating physicians and care staff at the touch of a button on the iMedOne Mobile app, and does not get lost.
The Internet of Things is also making its way into hospitals. Medical equipment such as ventilators and ECG devices are equipped with transmitters so that everyone always knows exactly where they are currently being used. That simplifies procedures – in the emergency room, for example.
All on one card …
Most of us already have one in our wallets: the electronic health card. It stores our insurance master data. Since 2019, emergency information and a medication plan have also been stored on this card. Electronic prescriptions and other health data are potential further inclusions for the future. Since 2019, Deutsche Telekom has been offering medical staff a starter package for outpatient and inpatient care. It enables them to connect to the nationwide IT infrastructure for the health card. The complete package contains everything a practice or hospital needs for a secure connection to the infrastructure. In 2019, telemedicine applications for aftercare of stroke patients were also connected to the telematics infrastructure for the first time. All products are subject to the rigorous review of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) or approval from gematik (Gesellschaft für Telematikanwendungen der Gesundheitskarte mbH), a company dealing with the application of telematics in the public health system.
No chance of drugs interacting with one another
Anyone who has to regularly take different medicines will already know that doctors and pharmacists must always know exactly which medication is being taken in order to avoid dangerous interaction. Since July 2020, medical practices and pharmacies have been able to create and edit an electronic medication plan on the patient’s electronic health card for those who are on three or more different kinds of medication and give their permission for such a plan. The aim of the electronic medication plan is to provide more security. To exchange the digital data securely, the hospitals, practices, and pharmacies are connected to a central telematics infrastructure. Connectors coordinate and encrypt the communication and ensure a secure transmission of the sensitive patient information. “gematik”, a company controlled by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Health, is responsible for establishing the new, digital structures in the healthcare sector. Deutsche Telekom’s iMedOne® hospital information system also includes a function for the electronic medication plan. gematik has assessed this function and confirmed that iMedOne® is one of the first hospital information systems in Germany that complies with the interface for the telematics infrastructure.
“Comprehensive digital access to patient information while complying with the strict health data protection regulations is the basic prerequisite for the digitalization of the healthcare system.” Dirk Hoffmann – product owner of the electronic medication plan at Deutsche Telekom
Our commitment to research
Not knowing where you are or no longer being able to find your way to the baker’s is a fate suffered by many people with dementia. We developed the Sea Hero Quest video game to help with dementia research by collecting anonymous data relating to spatial orientation. The game recorded players’ navigation behavior as they negotiated virtual swamps and arctic ice floes. During the project, which ran from 2016 to 2019, over 4.3 million people worldwide clocked up a total of more than 117 years of playing time. This collected more research data than would ever have been possible using conventional methods.
The all-important web
To encourage dialog about digital ethics in society, we have founded the Forum for Digital Ethics in Berlin – a platform for the general public and experts from the worlds of science, business, and politics to talk about digital responsibility. The forum includes activities such as workshops for students and senior citizens. There is also a hands-on exhibition explaining AI in a way that is clear and easy to understand.
In 2018, we were one of the first companies in the world to set our own guidelines for the ethical use of AI. They provide clear guidance for our developers and designers, but also our suppliers and partners. You can find out more about AI here.
Digital health programs at Deutsche Telekom
In addition to developing solutions for medical practices and hospitals, we also offer Deutsche Telekom staff digital health services such as apps telling them about nutrition or how to prevent headaches. In 2020, we launched the MyHealth Journey program for mental strength. A variety of options – such as webinars, online meditation sessions, podcasts, and recorded talks about mindfulness – help our staff improve their health and find the right balance. Further details about our health programs for staff are available here.
The immune system for data
The immune system for data
If digitalization in the health care system is to be a success, it is vital for people to be confident about the protection and security of sensitive data. Data privacy and data security therefore have top priority in e-health applications. To ensure that medical practices, hospitals, and health insurance companies do not become targets of cybercrime, and just as with health protection, we focus on two aspects – prevention and control – by simulating cyberattacks, for instance. Our “white hat” hackers employ the same methods used by professional criminals, which allows us to identify and close security gaps. If an attack does still occur, however, our emergency team from the Incident Response Service is ready. It is on standby around the clock and, in an emergency, can immediately investigate and help anywhere in the world – by telephone, email or even on site. If necessary, we also secure digital evidence so that it can be used later on in court. You can find detailed information about data protection and data security here.