Digitalization in the Health Care Sector: Will Computers Soon Replace Doctors?
Consumers are using fitness trackers and smart watches, in conjunction with apps, to keep an eye on their health. Artificial intelligence is now better than almost any doctor at detecting skin changes that may foretell problems. Is the digital transformation making doctors redundant? “Quite the opposite,” says Dr. Jens Härtel, Managing Director of the health care company Vilua of Arvato CRM Solutions.
Of course, advanced technologies have been in use in the health care sector for a long time. Doctors can use a joystick, for instance, to guide a surgical robot and perform minimally invasive operations. In another example, laboratory tests are no longer carried out by staff at the doctor’s office but instead by large laboratories in which machines record certain blood parameters in an automated process.
Moreover, digitalization opens up completely new possibilities, of which automation, whether in medical work or in the management of doctors’ offices, is only one aspect. And the possibilities extend beyond the use of IBM’s artificial intelligence “Watson” to help with diagnoses. Nowadays, doctors have a vast amount of data at their disposal; the data is collected via patients’ personal devices or via innovative products such as the “preventiometer.” Vilua uses the high-tech preventiometer in workplace health and wellness programs. It can measure over 30 parameters, including body weight, blood pressure, hearing, vision, stress levels, and numerous other pieces of health-related data.
Holistic view of patients
“This data provides doctors with significantly more insights into their patients than they ever could have had before,” explains Dr. Jens Härtel. “Normally, a doctor first takes a patient’s medical history when the patient arrives at the doctor’s office with a complaint, and so there is already a problem in terms of their health, which can then appear in the medical data.” The new availability of data in the health care sector has two advantages: when treating a patient, doctors can also take account of the patient’s “historical” data and thus better understand changes in health-related parameters. Risk factors can also be detected more quickly at the prevention stage, ideally making it possible to avert illness.
However, this assumes that the relevant data is being systematically collected and used. Vilua’s “Health Cockpit” provides a professional solution for this. The platform enables interaction between different parties within the health care system. Patients have the opportunity to provide access to their health-related data as they choose. The health data is then checked by doctors. In the context of corporate health and wellness programs, prevention coaches can then help participants reach their individual health-related objectives. “This example shows that digitalization isn’t making the doctor’s job redundant,” states Dr. Härtel. “It’s changing the doctor’s job, but the doctor’s profession has always been subject to change.”
New possibilities, new tasks
According to Dr. Härtel, technology will perform many of the tasks doctors have had to do and allow them time to concentrate more fully on their patients again. “In a way, digital solutions are making the field of medicine more human again. The interaction between human beings, or the human ability to empathize, isn’t something that can be replaced by machines any time in the foreseeable future, and more and more attention will be paid to these aspects once again.” In addition, as a result of the new pool of available data, doctors are increasingly being presented with the task of preventative health care and wellness.
Recently, action was taken to provide more scope for digital solutions in health care: in May, at the 121st gathering of the German Medical Association, it was decided with a large majority that the ban on remote treatment should be relaxed. Questions of liability still need to be clarified with insurance companies, but in principle, doctors can now offer consultation hours via video chat, for example. Germany is certainly not a forerunner in this respect, however. In England, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States, doctors have been using telemedicine for a long time already.