Digitization has reached medicine. It could fundamentally change today’s health care system so that each patient benefits from better diagnosis and more personalized treatments.
Intelligent linking of data: More and more people are using smartphones and wearable s to continuously measure blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels.
More than 75 years ago, when Konrad Zuse presented the world’s first programmable computer in Berlin, medical reports, findings and research results were still handwritten on paper or with a typewriter. Today, most people have smartphones that fit in their pockets, are more powerful than previous supercomputers and can communicate with, stream music or measure heart rate. An end to this rapid technological development is not in sight. This also applies to the rapidly growing amount of health-relevant data:
- Medical data such as medical history, blood counts, or findings are recorded directly in computerized medical practices.
- Complete genomes, such as those of malignant tumors, are almost routinely sequenced in biomedical research and also electronically stored and processed.
- And more and more people are even using smartphone apps, wearable, and possibly future biosensors, to continuously measure blood pressure, blood sugar, or heart rate.
Intelligently linking data
The intelligent linkage of these vast amounts of data through ever more powerful IT systems provides the opportunity to draw a dynamic and holistic picture of each individual’s health.
That was completely unthinkable 75 years ago.
Better diagnosis and therapy
The increasing digitization of social life is changing the demands on modern health care while offering opportunities for a more efficient healthcare system. In the future, the networking and processing of health data will make it increasingly possible to design better diagnostic procedures and personalized therapies for the individual. Other examples include telemedicine applications in, for example, cardiology, which enable better care for people in rural areas, or the development of novel therapeutic approaches: online therapies, for example, are being used more and more often for the treatment of depression. Data is therefore an important resource for future health research and care. In the case of sensitive health data in particular, fundamental aspects must also be taken into account, in particular, who may decide on the use of the data collected.
Funding of the Federal Ministry of Research
Some of the applications outlined above are already a reality today, others are still in development. With the new High-Tech Strategy and the Digital Agenda, the Federal Government is setting the course for innovation policy in order to exploit the opportunities of digitization in Germany. With concrete funding priorities, the Federal Ministry of Research is providing impulses at key points.
Medical computer science
For example with the groundbreaking funding concept for medical informatics. The goal is the establishment of digital infrastructures as a basis for the cross-location data and knowledge exchange between supply and research. Only then can the potential of existing data and medical knowledge be fully exploited – for the benefit of patients. The medium-term goal is the involvement of as many German clinics as possible, as well as resident physicians and patients.
Big Data Centers
In parallel, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) supports the development of new methods, for example to be able to evaluate the huge amounts of data at all. Two big data centers have been established in Berlin and Dresden / Leipzig, which are intensively searching for procedures to integrate, analyze and visualize large amounts of data. The German Network for Bioinformatics also deals with large amounts of data, for example, from genome sequencing and provides tools for the entire scientific community.
Business and science work together
In addition to the development of methods, the research of new diagnostic and therapeutic procedures has been a long-term focus of the BMBF, which is dynamically adapted to the changing digital world. The BMBF is funding digital therapies and digital therapy support systems with its “Medical Solutions for Digital Health Care” funding initiative, which is initiating innovations for digital health care in cooperation with business, science and users. The merger of computer science, mathematics, biology and medicine in the priority area of ”system medicine” brings with it the hope of developing tailor-made therapies for each individual.
More efficient health system
In addition, key technologies are also the basis for many innovations in the health sector. In particular, the widespread use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and their integration with other technologies such as photonics will enable better treatment of patients not only in clinics and medical practices, but also at the scene of an accident, at home or in disaster areas. They also lead to efficiency gains and potential savings for the healthcare system and new markets for companies.
Important funding priorities for technology promotion are:
Interactive ICT technologies for a patient-friendly medical technology,
Electronic systems for smart medical systems,
ICT for safe and reliable medical technology,
Photonic system solutions for medicine,
Networked production of medical technology systems economically and in the highest quality
Patient-friendly technique: To analyze the function of the lungs, data is evaluated on the screen. © PT DLR / BMBF