When a pandemic hits, health care systems are our first line of defense. As the leading provider of kidney care products and services in the world, we at Fresenius Medical Care need to deliver on many fronts at once:
- We must immediately do everything we can to protect our patients, who need continuous life-sustaining dialysis and are among the most at-risk populations
- We must protect our staff, who, by being there for our patients, put themselves at increased risk
- And we must secure supply for all patients that need our products, be that in our own centers or anywhere else
Planning for contingencies has always been our responsibility – we even have disaster response teams that can maintain patient care after natural catastrophes. Still, this is a crisis of unprecedented scale, affecting people all over the world, and demanding emergency measures across the board, from our clinics to our back offices, and from our production plants to the very end of our supply chains. For a more detailed look at what we did and what we’ve learned from it, I’d be glad if you read my piece for the Washington Post.
As you can probably tell, these past weeks have been extremely demanding – and I expect it to stay this way for months to come. Our teams are working tirelessly, knowing that patients count on them to deliver life-saving products and services – and I can’t thank them enough for their efforts. And yet as a CEO, I also need to look beyond the immediate. This crisis is fast-tracking developments that might otherwise have taken years to unfold – and I would be remiss if I didn’t take the time to consider how they might play out.
I’m excited to see the adoption of telehealth shifted into hyper-drive
Telehealth has long been an effective way to give people access to medical professionals from the comfort of their own homes. Health care providers can use phones, tablets, computers and specialized medical equipment to diagnose, treat, and educate patients from far away. The option has been around for decades, but while the technology improved quickly, uptake has long been slow.1 Now the pandemic is leading health care providers to go digital by the thousands, patients are flocking to the new offers and regulators everywhere are showing unheard support. This development is very encouraging for us as at Fresenius Medical Care, because we have long advocated for more home dialysis and telehealth options, which our patients are already using in record numbers. It seems as if the world has finally realized the value of telehealth – and I believe it will become an integral part of medicine going forward, allowing us to progress even faster and our patients’ lives to become easier and better.
This Will be a New Dawn for Interconnected Intelligence
More telehealth will produce more data, which can be overwhelming at first. But we at Fresenius Medical Care have always worked in a particularly data-heavy discipline – so we know that hidden in that data there is a huge potential to improve the standard of care. In fact, our whole company went through a paradigm shift a few years ago: We realized that our devices are not just devices – they are actually platforms that allow us to gain insight.
To make sense of all the information, we use artificial intelligence and machine learning that analyzes large volumes of data independently. And when we apply predictive modeling, we can even forecast the future. Comparing our patients’ current values with our historical data tells us what is likely to happen next – and how we can intervene for the best possible outcome. This way, we are already seeing a shift from reactive to preventive health care – from seeing patients only after they get sick to proactively keeping them healthy. And if you do get sick, ever more personalized treatments will soften the blow. Future dialysis devices will use multiple biosensors (like our on-body sensor BioIntelliSense) to detect even the slightest chemical and physical signals and achieve an automatic and immediate change of dialysis parameters.
The app gives patients at Fresenius Medical Care clinics an overview of their treatment as well as the drugs prescribed to them and their lab results.
The platform allows patients, care teams and physicians to better collaborate and monitor patient treatments. This supports our efforts to accelerate the introduction of home treatments while ensuring that our patients remain in close contact with their care teams.
The app integrates all of the important parameters for dialysis treatment, allowing our physicians to adjust treatment individually and giving them more time for their patients.
Better Information Will Empower People
New technology isn’t always readily embraced. And rightfully so: Nobody wants their doctor or nurse replaced by a robot anytime soon. Fortunately, this isn’t what’s happening at Fresenius Medical Care at all. We believe artificial intelligence has only one sensible purpose: to support and enhance human intelligence, not replace it. Our AI algorithms are more like great assistants – they help our care teams, physicians and nurses make informed decisions to buy them time for what really matters: human contact.
- Care Teams that support our home dialysis patients in North America now use our connected health platform “TheHub”. It gives them real-time access to medical records so they can closely monitor patients and quickly intervene when they catch a potential issue.
- Physicians in some of our clinics use our “Doctor App” to assess a patient’s current values. This way, they can customize each treatment and answer questions right away. The app even helps them with important medical decisions. Like a great assistant, it improves the quality of their work and the physician-patient relationship.
- Patients in many countries use our “My Companion” smartphone app. It gives them a good overview of their current state of health and automatically reminds them to take medication or exercise.
So, if you ask me about this pandemic, I would say that it is incredibly tough right now, but it will eventually push us forward. We will use even more telehealth and advance interconnected intelligence even further. All of this will contribute to our core philosophy: offering the best possible treatment for our patients. And yet right now, the immediate health and safety of our patients and employees remain our top priority. As an industry leader in kidney care, we’re taking our responsibility very seriously. I am confident that together we can tackle this pandemic and continue to create a future worth living for our patients, worldwide, every day.
Stay safe and take good care,
1 “From 2005 to 2017, only one out of every 150 doctor visits and one in every 5,000-10,000 specialist visits in the U.S. were conducted via telemedicine.” (Source: techcrunch.com/2020/04/04/why-telehealth-cant-significantly-flatten-the-coronavirus-curve-yet/)