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Medicine 2.0 instead of gods in white coats

The digital revolution is capturing more and more areas of life. The media world has already been shaken up years ago. Meanwhile the revolutionary wave has not only reached the financial sector: DLDsummer 15 has shown that major changes are about to hit the health sector, too: the enlightened patient continually improves his network and takes his health in his own hands by means of cellphone, wrist computer or online chats.

Kerstin (32) has for several days been suffering from a sharp stabbing pain in her stomach – sometimes also an itch – directly under her rib cage. Only a few years ago she would have dismissed these symptoms. Not in the area of internet. For two evenings now she has been searching for similar symptoms and possible illnesses in the Internet. Somewhat confused – the web forums she consulted talked about all sorts of illnesses from jaundice and pancreatitis through to cancer – she finally decided to seek the advice of a doctor.

The myriad of information in the Internet does not always confuse patients. Above all the chronically ill use it to search for help, alternative therapies or simply fellow sufferers to exchange their experiences. This is confirmed by Florian Weiß from Jameda.de in a podium discussion at DLDsummer: “The behavior of patients has already changed. A lot of patients go to their doctor equipped with an idea of what their illness could be, along with an appropriate therapy.” A veritable trend was evidenced during the two days of the Digital Life Design (DLD) event, which for the first time took place under the name of DLDsummer in the Allianz Auditorium in Munich: Today’s patient is wised up, informs himself in web forums, obtains tips from cured people, asks others about their experience with medications. In contrast to these networked sick people there are the so called gods in white coats, who up to a few years ago were still non-contestable. Today they are meant to find a therapy on an equal footing with their patients. But this is only the start of Medicine 2.0.

Nothing can replace a personal discussion – except Skype

Above all in Germany patients visit their doctor very often. Various studies indicate that this could be as frequently as 18 times per year. In Sweden and America patients see their doctor only three to four times a year. This is a real challenge for medical practices and health insurance funds. The upshot: full waiting rooms and disgruntled patients. Yet many things could be settled without a personal visit to the doctor.

Moreover, the doctor-patient relationship will change fundamentally. In one of the workshops on the topic of “Digital Health Management” experts at the DLDsummer event discussed to what extent the individual can obtain more control over his state of health. Ida Luka-Lognoné from Allianz Worlwide Partners (AWP) and Peter Vullinghs from Phillips explained how their partnership wants to close a gap in health provision. In a pilot project on the topic of back problems, Phillips introduces the technical devices which alleviate back pain. In addition, AWP offers medical coaching for patients in a 12-week program. Luka-Logononé: “With our personalized coaching and support from our medical experts, we want to empower the patients to take care of themselves and actively contribute to prevention.”

However, if the DLD visionaries have their way, the development is not going to stop here. With the help of “wearables”, that is to say wristbands or other small devices to be carried on your body, it is possible to optimally monitor the state of health of the chronically ill in particular. If a specific value in his body rises, the patient gets a message that it is time for his asthma spray, to prevent a pending attack. In particularly severe cases an emergency doctor is informed directly. A lot of technical enthusiasts today are already monitoring their sleep or their run through the forest with such a wearable. This development could not only improve the life of patients, but also help to more sensibly organize the deployment of medication and medical staff. To date most of these type of functions are still carried out via cellphone. According to Aysegul Ildeniz from Intel, this does not have to stay this way: “We’re working closely together with other industries to find out what we can jointly develop in the future. New gadgets are sought!” We only need to think about the Jawbone wristband or the Apple watch.

The scientist as listener

Those using the technology are torn between two things: On the one hand they want to measure their running time and immediately post it on Facebook, while on the other, people ask themselves if it is good to leave behind their digital footprint everywhere.

According to Peter Vullinghs many people feel that they cannot control what happens with their data in the current health system: What do doctors and hospitals do with them? Vullinghs explains that the number of self-confident customers in the health area is constantly increasing. It very much looks as if we are going to look after our own health in a more autonomous manner in the future.

Notwithstanding our love for technology – DLD is not neglecting the emotional aspect: Different speakers emphasize that besides doctors, medication and operating theatres, what makes us healthy again is the patient’s feeling of emotional security and warmth. Mark Lightowler from Novartis Digital explains how he developed from a sober, science-driven physician to a listener who lets the patients have their say and sees this as part of the therapy.

Kerstin, too, is in a good mood following her visit to the doctor. After undergoing an examination by her general practitioner, she is advised to take some medication and change her diet, since she seems to have an irritable stomach. Time for more Internet research: “What is the right diet for a sensitive stomach?” After all, she does not want to ignore the experience of her fellow stomach sufferers.