Smart hospital: The future of medicine

Digitalization & innovation, 22.02.2018

What kind of advances in medicine and the medical profession will we see in the world of tomorrow? Will the patients be greeted, diagnosed and treated by Dr. Robot? This is a topic that has been discussed by the top experts of the DKV and experts from the areas of research, politics, university medicine and ERGO during their conference in January 2018 in Cologne. 

Prof. Jochen Werner, member of the Board of Management and medical director at the university of Essen, examined the road to a widely digitalised “smart hospital” at the beginning. According to a study by Roland Berger, 90% of all hospitals state-wide have developed a digitisation strategy. “Digitisation can mean a real innovative leap for clinics. Digitisation should however not be an end in itself. The objective is to promote the curing of patients and to create advantages for diagnosis and therapy. Also important: to improve the work conditions of the employees”, states Werner, outlining the advantages. The areas of action for the transformation within the hospital are extensive. Such areas are, among others, electronic patient records, telemedicine, IT security and assistance, and nurse robotics. These clinic robots are tailored to specific clinical situations. They are often located at the hospital bed. Their functions are the mobilisation of the patient or assistance with eating.

However, in order to successfully implement the digital transformation, there must be an increased acceptance of aids such as telemedicine and nurse robots with patients. According to the ERGO risk report, which was published in Berlin in February, only 20 percent of those surveyed saw advantages in nurse robots and telemedicine. 

Dr. Tonio Ball is the director of the Translational Neurotechnology Lab in Freiburg. He sees the emergence of an entirely new research field as a result of the cross-linking of information technology and neuroscience. He has already been dealing intensively with deep learning and artificial neu-ral networks for quite some time. He is thus a proponent of artificial intelligence. “With the current methods, we can accurately interpret only 90% of brain signals. Self-learning algorithms will soon be able to analyse these at a faster and better rate than humans.” At the moment, Ball is conducting research on a deep learning-based brain/computer interface. Activity in the human brain is being decoded. That's how diseases are detected. It can also prevent acute incidents of epilepsy. Patients who are paralysed will be able to navigate a menu through thought impulses and to administer orders to a robot in the future. “Please fetch me a glass of water.” A robot today still requires a relatively long time to process a simple order such as this. But Ball remains optimistic. It's only a matter of a few years before those ideas are applied within the world of medicine.

Even in the analogue world, hospitals were very sensitive to interference. That’s why they belong to the realm of critical infrastructure. For years, there has been the UP KRITIS for emergency response. This is a public-private cooperation between users of critical infrastructures. As a result of the advent of new digital applications, its vulnerability has significantly increased. Stefan Becker, head of unit at the Federal Office for Information Security, directly provided unsettling numbers. In 2015, every two in the over 1000 companies surveyed were affected by data theft, espionage or sabotage. In 2016 and 2017, already 70% of companies and institutions were affected. He warned urgently against underestimating the risk potential for hospitals. From his point of view, it's not a question if someone is affected, but when. He recommended prevention through the permanent exercising of the treatment of critical incidents. The cyber-security alliance located in his facilities is available as a point of contact. Training in IT security expertise can for example be given at cyber-security events and training centres for network reliability.  

Uwe Schnödewind, division manager at the DKV, presented a few of ERGO’s current projects and applications. These include the health app, data analytics in the area of daily sickness benefits and artificial intelligence for chatbots. His message was clear. “We will only have well cared for and satisfied customers when we provide them with networked channels of communication. The hybrid customer decides how they want to contact us. We then respond either digitally or analogously. Therefore, in addition to digital channels, we offer analogue channels. We also have the customary channels of mail, telephone and personal contact.”      

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