DUB UNTERNEHMER Magazine: The medical technology industry is changing noticeably. What exactly are you up to at the moment? What innovation are you working on?
We are working on promising future projects in the product and service areas. These involve automation of treatment processes, both in dialysis clinics and in home dialysis, for instance. However, our teams are also developing new types of sensors and innovative filter membranes. So we are continuously improving our quality of care while simultaneously addressing mounting cost pressure in the health care sector. Our colleagues in the U.S. in particular are working hard on big data, predictive analytics, and patient avatars. One additional area of innovation is regenerative medicine. Here, we are taking a multi-pronged approach and investing in promising technologies and research methods via our subsidiaries Unicyte AG and Fresenius Medical Care Ventures. Restoration of organ function – and therefore cure of kidney failure – is the main focal point here.
Where do you see the most pressing problems and needs for action for the German health care market on the road to digitalization?
Compared to other countries, there are many regulations and restrictions here. Our legislation obviously seeks to provide the requisite protection for patients and consumers. Unfortunately, however, the measures overstep the mark in some areas. This makes the innovation process harder, and above all slower, than it needs to be. Generally speaking, there is less willingness to see the benefits of new technologies in the digital sector than in China or the U.S., for instance.
Let’s stay with digital transformation: Where do you see the specific challenges in day-to-day work?
Previously, we have mainly dealt with products and medical services. Now, we are increasingly focusing on software development and related service models. Our vertical integration from development of products to dialysis treatment is a key competitive edge here. Our Research and Development employees can work directly with physicians, nurses, and patients in our clinics.
In the U.S., health professionals in a physicians’ network have been able to access patient data via smartphone app for some time now. Information on diagnosis, drug administration and, for instance, notes for handover to the night shift can be retrieved by each of the doctors – what is holding you back here in Germany?
Protection of personal data and especially patient data is a much bigger issue here than in the U.S. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Yet we need to find a way to protect patient data while also enabling new innovation models. This presents an opportunity for the solutions developed here ultimately to have a unique selling point: not just data-based solutions, but ones that patients and consumers can trust.
To what extent is Fresenius Medical Care already using the benefits of artificial intelligence?
We have many millions of datasets from dialysis treatments, for instance. In the U.S., we are using this data to perform much more precise and individual dosing of drugs, for example, with the assistance of learning systems. Furthermore, our algorithms make predictions on the state of our patients’ health. For instance, with one of our AI-based analysis systems, it is possible to make a highly accurate prediction of the risk of an unplanned admission to the hospital for the next seven days – and to counter it accordingly.
Are data and AI the key to health?
Every medical decision is reliant on a diagnosis. Therefore, data has long been the key in medicine, even without learning systems and AI. However, it is getting increasingly wide-ranging, and a host of sensors are generating a growing volume of data. Without the help of learning systems and AI, patterns can be detected only to a limited extent.
Is the hype around big data genuinely heralding a revolution, or will it soon fade away?
Even though big data is all over the headlines at the moment, I don’t think it will fade away. It will level out to a certain degree, and there are bound to be disappointments, but learning systems for analyzing large volumes of data definitely have the potential to deliver lasting changes and improvements in the medical world.
You recently launched a cooperation with the University Medical Center Hamburg. What successful outcomes do you expect from it?
At the University Medical Center Hamburg, a team of scientists and physicians is researching the causal links of kidney diseases. This is a long-term collaboration. We expect it to yield new, innovative diagnosis options for various subtypes of kidney disease. We aim to develop custom treatment options from it.
How do you see the future for medicine?
The proverbial crystal ball would be really useful here. I think a whole host of factors will shape future development. One of them is certainly the transition to value-oriented care. This means that quality of care is becoming a much more important element in the remuneration of medical services. Another factor, of course, is digitalization. And intelligent devices that are radically simplifying treatment while boosting quality.
To what extent is e-health more than just a buzzword? What genuine added value does digitalization of health care bring?
Digitalization enables economies of scale. And it allows a high level of individualization at reasonable costs. Through digitalization, we will be able to offer better patient care in all regions now and in the long term.
Do you regard Silicon Valley as a nemesis or an innovation driver?
Absolutely as an innovation driver. Via FMC Ventures, we have already invested in several companies in California in order to tap into their innovation potential. However, it would be foolish to expect future innovations from just one small part of the world, Silicon Valley. Innovative research, entrepreneurs and start-ups can also be found in many other places such as Europe, Israel, Singapore and China. We are finding future innovation drivers in those places, too, and are keeping our eyes open.