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ECDF Industry Forum: Digital Health in the Aging Society – Are we prepared?

[Translate to Englisch:] AdobeStock/ Goodluz

Digital applications and technology are already an integral part of diagnostics, therapy and communication between doctors and patients in the healthcare sector. How can we advance the digitization of our healthcare system while keeping an eye on the challenges and needs of our aging society? This question was addressed by around 60 participants from business, politics and science at the seventh ECDF Industry Forum on April 26, which was once again held as a digital edition due to the Corona pandemic.


"If the Corona pandemic has shown us one thing, it is how urgently we need digital solutions and that there is still some catching up to do." With these words, ECDF speaker Prof. Dr. Odej Kao opened the event. After some organizational notes, moderator Tim Kawalun emphasized again that the topic of "Digital Health" has gained in relevance through the last months and welcomed Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Schildhauer and Prof. Dr. Dr. Felix Balzer, initiators of the Digital Urban Center for Aging & Health (DUCAH). "With the DUCAH, we want to establish a human-centered research center. It is particularly important to us that the developments actually reach people and that we accompany the transition," explains Balzer. Using the fictional story of patient Mrs. Müller, the two demonstrated the opportunities that digital applications bring for older people. Smart watches, for example, could help detect a fall at night earlier. The project relies on interdisciplinarity: in addition to research institutes and disciplines such as computer science, medicine and technology, social enterprises, hospitals and housing associations as well as various professional groups from the healthcare sector are involved. "With DUCAH, we want to ensure the transfer of science and teaching to society. We want to create a network to bring together the various players in the field of health," says Thomas Schildhauer. 

The short talks of the network partners were opened by Jörg Michael Huber from Roche Pharma AG with an insight into the care of Alzheimer's disease with digital solutions. Huber emphasized that women's employment biographies in particular are often interrupted, as they frequently take on the care of relatives with Alzheimer's disease. "Currently, instead of prevention, the focus is more on managing the care situation. It is simply a matter of also taking advantage of the opportunities in the early phase of the disease in order to postpone a later need for care as much as possible. The first signs of a later illness can often be detected many years beforehand," explains Huber. Thanks to an app for early detection, cognitive tests can be carried out early and at low thresholds, which could open up completely new avenues for the prevention and treatment of the disease. Fittingly, Dr. Anna Trukenbrod from UseTree then provided insight into the topic of user experience using the example of health games: "These types of games are fun and keep people mentally fit. It is particularly important that the users have an enjoyable experience, want to use the games again, and are not overwhelmed by technical problems or complicated operation. Of course, the games also have to suit the age group; bowling is also very popular with older people," explains the senior consultant for user experience. In the last Short Talk, Torsten Knieps from medentis medical GmbH provided insights into the opportunities and risks of digitalization in dentistry. Today, digital solutions such as the intraoral scanner replace the analog impression and changes can be digitally measured and evaluated. Knieps sees opportunities, among other things, in the fact that cloud-based solutions enable location-independent work and facilitate consultations and teamwork. Artificial intelligence could also play a key role in the planning of implants and improve patient prognoses. He also sees the handling and protection of sensitive patient data as one of the greatest challenges.  

In the breakout sessions, the participants were then able to discuss selected topics in more detail. With regard to DUCAH, Thomas Schildhauer explained that it is intended to be a supra-regional project in the long term; in the breakout session around the topic of Alzheimer's, the main focus was on moral issues that earlier detection of the disease would entail. "However, we are all united by the question of how to deal with big data and the challenges posed by the - rightly - high data protection requirements," Felix Balzer summarized at the end. Moderator Tim Kawalun bid farewell to the participants with a reference to the next Industry Forum: "At the next edition of the Industry Forum in July, we of course hope that the situation will be somewhat more relaxed, and we would be very pleased if we could welcome some of you back on site at the Robert Koch Forum."