Three questions – three answers: Dr. Stefan Knupfer, Board of Directors at AOK Plus

The 2b AHEAD expert network in dialogue. Health experts regularly raise relevant questions on the future of health. Other experts from our network comment on this – and in turn ask new questions that will go to new experts. In this way, an inspiring dialogue grows and we will continue to expand it.

Focus today: Dr. Stefan Knupfer from AOK Plus

The expert questions today go to Dr. Stefan Knupfer, Deputy Chairman of the Board of AOK Plus for Saxony and Thuringia, based in Dresden. In 2006, Dr. Knupfer was appointed as an authorised representative of the Management Board. With the merger to form AOK PLUS, he assumed the role of Managing Director of the Market Division. Since 2011, he has worked as Managing Director of the Finance/Controlling unit and authorized representative of the Executive Board.

The future of the principle of solidarity in an ageing society

Peter Ohnemus, DacadooPeter Ohnemus, founder and CEO of Dacadoo: How can the principle of solidarity be financed in a world where we live to be 85 years old on average and where 30% of the German population will soon be 65+?

Dr. Stefan Knupfer, AOK Plus

Dr. Stefan Knupfer, Deputy Chairman of AOK Plus: The logic underlying the solidarity principle to this day is based on the assumption that an ageing society must also be a sicker society. I think this approach is obsolete.

Isn’t it rather the case that older people stay healthy longer and age healthier? Isn’t it also the case that ageing people today have better and cheaper therapies available than a few years ago?

The main burden of health expenditure in a person’s life lies in the last three years of life and is significantly higher for chronically ill people than for those who are not chronically ill. So is it not much more sensible to focus on the prevention of chronic diseases at this point? I think that the digital transformation offers numerous opportunities here, the potential of which is currently far from being sufficiently exploited.

The fact is that both medical progress and, in particular, digitalization are progressing at a rapid pace. This is accompanied by numerous opportunities that have not yet been exploited, or only insufficiently exploited, to make health care more efficient and different, without losing sight of the well-being of the individual in an ageing society.

In addition, the social and economic system in Germany is currently essentially based on private property, whereby a redistribution principle or the approach of a Sharing Economy has so far had little effect. As a result of demographic change and increasing tendencies towards individualisation, the solidarity principle of statutory health insurance schemes is getting into difficulties. In the future, this will pave the political way for a citizens’ insurance to provide basic services or a new financing of the solidarity principle through tax subsidies, e.g. from a financial transaction tax.

In the future, distributive justice will have to play a greater role. Health will become a public good. Particular challenges lie in the equitable distribution of health resources and in equitable access to health prevention and care for all people, regardless of their origin or income. Rationalisation through digitisation alone will not be enough to compensate for cost pressures from medical progress and demographic change, making the question of alternative system logic unavoidable.

In a sharing economy based on distributive justice, everyone has equal access to medical-technical innovations. Trends such as increasing “medical tourism” in the sense of cross-border use of medical services and the increasing willingness to share data also necessitate a fundamental rethink. In my view, Big Data can be a new “currency” and replace obsolete causality arguments. In times of digital transformation, an idea of solidarity extended by the data division dimension will continue to express the will of people to stand up for each other in the future.

Experimental medicine for terminally ill patients

Liz Parrish, BiovivaLiz Parrish, Gründerin und CEO von Bioviva: Do you believe that terminally ill patients should have access to experimental medicine? Please explain.

Dr. Stefan Knupfer, AOK PlusDr. Stefan Knupfer, stellvertrender Vorsitzender der AOK Plus: In my opinion, experimental medicine represents the basis of all therapeutic interventions, as it lays the foundation for further clinical trials with proof-of-principles experiments.

Experimental medicine makes it possible to understand human diseases, so as their origin, their pathogenesis and their effects on the organism in general and to develop new effictive therapies of various kinds from this understanding. Experimental medicine usually means basic research – of course with the aim to improve practical therapeutic action at the bedside.

However, until the findings of experimental medicine are actually available at the bedside, often a lot of time passes – time that a terminally ill person may no longer have. Such a terminally ill human being, fully aware of and fully aware of his situation, and freely to choosing to do so should, in my view, have access to experimental medicine – that is, to medical interventions that are not yet fully ecidence-based for health care.

The key point, however, is that terminally ill people are often no longer able to make such a decision of full consciousness and full willpower themselves. Here I see an ethical fundamental question of our society that urgently needs an open discourse: how do we deal with the advanced medical options we now have to artificially keep people alive? May trusted people speak for terminally ill relatives, ie act in their (presumed) will when it comes to choosing experimental medicine as a last resort or even providing a terminally ill relative for further basic research?

So far, there is no social consensus, no “modus operandi”, which is carried by all people. In this respect, a generalized answer to the question of access to experimental medicine for terminally ill people, which can only be answered individually, is currently not possible.

The doctor as “health pastor”

Frieder Hänisch, LimbachgruppeFrieder Hänisch, Business Development, Limbach Gruppe: Is the essential role of the physician in the future still the “health pastor”, who brings about the therapy decision and has a competence advantage over technical services (e.g. ADA-App), or is he only needed as a legal entity for liability issues in the health care system?

Dr. Stefan Knupfer, AOK PlusDr. Stefan Knupfer, stellvertrender Vorsitzender der AOK Plus: To start with, a counter question: Is the doctor really a “health pastor” today? Is he not rather a quite rational “health status surveyor” and a therapist of often only symptoms, but not of systemic and dynamic states – because illness and health are not static entities?

The so-called “talking medicine”, which places high demands on the social skills of the physician, has in recent decades actually stepped more and more into the background of medical activity. However, I believe that this trend will again develop in the direction of a return to what we call “pastoral” competences. Social competences, a high degree of empathy and the ability to advise and perhaps even coach other people will play a decisive role in the role of the physician in the future.

Similarly, physicians will be required to have a much greater understanding of digital applications in the future, because they will support the work of physicians on patients to a much greater extent in the future. The role of the physician will be between the physician as “Life Scientist” and the physician as “Mental Scientist”.

The information asymmetry between doctor and patient is decreasing more and more, which means that mature and well-informed patients will expect the best possible offers from a doctor for their respective health situation in the future.

Demographic change and healthcare: Good News

Demographic change and healthcare: The core business of health insurance in the future will no longer just be healing the sick. Health insurers will support healthy people – from the prevention of diseases to increasing well-being and life expectancy. This is the result of a current trend study by 2b AHEAD ThinkTank. Demographic change has a direct impact here.

Trend study health insurance

The healthcare sector will undergo unprecedented change by 2030. With digitalization, the possibilities of medical research, diagnostics, therapy, rehabilitation and prevention are growing at exponential speed. These effects are nowhere more evident than among the fastest-growing groups in our society:

  • The old who don’t feel old even when they retire,
  • the still older, who in many cases can still lead an active and active life, and
  • the very old, still rare today, soon an everyday occurrence.
The good news

The majority of today’s forecasts and future studies address demographic change as a problem and a threat. Of course, it will present us with social and economic challenges of an unprecedented scale. But for both individuals and our communities, demographic change represents the greatest conceivable progress: the considerable extension of one’s own life in activity and self-determination. Demographic change may be expensive news, but above all it is good news.

People born in this decade realistically reach an age of over 100 years. It is the interaction of four influential drivers that brings the dream of longer life within reach. The first condition is the freely available gene analysis. The second development concerns the breeding of individual copies of internal organs, which may be optimised compared to the previous version. The third prerequisite is a comprehensive understanding of the aging processes of humans. The fourth element is the synchronization of the human psyche with the virtual world. A breakthrough in research in all four fields is likely in the coming years.

For the sake of completeness: There is a well-founded opposite position to this, especially taken up here in the blog. It is represented among others by the medical ethicist Ezekiel J. Emanuel. He fears extension as a phase of helplessness and diminishing dignity.

The increase of well-being

A decisive change in dealing with human health is the disappearance of the binary assumption that a patient is either healthy or ill. This categorical distinction has always been a fiction anyway. Nobody’s just sick or just healthy. Instead – assuming the corresponding amount of data and its continuous collection – the individual well-being can be measured and located on a scale. This is changing the goal of medical action. While yesterday the focus was on repair and damage prevention, tomorrow it will be on gradually improving one’s own well-being. What can I do to feel a little better tomorrow – and who will support me? The enlightened healthcare customers of the future are very consciously and with the support of digital assistance systems selecting the most competent physician for their situation, the appropriate insurance and the trustworthy data manager from their individual healthcare network. At the same time, they will no longer accept that the interaction of several service providers is associated with increased effort for them.

In the near future, evidence-based, personalised recommendations for targeted prevention will replace the always identical bonus booklets of health insurance companies and lump-sum and overall undirected health-promoting measures.

Test Case Robotics in Nursing

This can be clearly seen in the emergence of robotics in care. Robotics became a widely accepted matter of course in the course of the 1920s. This has long been the case in the field of dementia care. The fact that a robot has the patience to listen to the same question, the same story, the same excitement over and over again as it did the first time makes this development even easier.

However, the development will not be limited to animated stuffed animals. This is shown in the example of medication. Where nursing staff still have to work by hand today, the procedure is time-consuming and prone to errors. The next step is automated dispensing of medication to the patient at home: individual implementation of the medication plan by a pill robot. In the next step, robots learn to analyse the state of health of humans. By blood sample, air analysis, nutrition tracking, later by observing the skin temperature, the movement patterns and by voice analysis. The dosage of the active ingredient is calculated in real time.

In the next expansion stage, the medication robot is able to print the individually appropriate active ingredients onto a carrier directly before ingestion. Is this a relief for the nursing service? With great certainty. Does this development, and thus indirectly the demographic change, have the potential to improve the well-being of the individual patient? With a very high probability. These are the simple questions. But whose knowledge is the robot`s work based on? As soon as he has access to networked medical knowledge, his professional competence will always be higher than that of the individual doctor. For the time being, the family doctor is still needed to issue prescriptions, which also makes up for a reason to exist professionally. His profession will change permanently, a thesis that Markus Bönig of Vitabook has just confirmed here. The medicines or active ingredients do not have to be purchased in the pharmacy around the corner anyway. This opens up completely new business areas for new players.

Smart Home

An additional driver of this development is the currently exponentially growing networking of buildings, starting with Ambient Assistant Living. The smart home of the person in need of care is the first and most competent care robot. This means that completely new players are suddenly active in the health industry: Network operators, property managers, building contractors, manufacturers of electronics and sensor technology. This, too, is an indirect consequence of demographic change.

Health insurers as the health promoters of the future must start much earlier in the process, which means that they will occupy a much more active and positive position in the perception of health customers. The one-size-fits-it-all-principle has had its day. In future, health promoters will not react only when health customers are ill, but will continuously monitor their current state of health and act before the onset of a foreseeable illness. This too: That’s good news.

 

Healthcare in old age: Why this man limits his medical care himself

We live longer and longer. So far so familiar. In any case, from a Western perspective, this is basically synonymous with: This is an enormous step forward in civilization. We are getting older – and we will be able to enjoy the gain in lifetime healthy and fit. Healthcare in old age ensures that we extend the phase of active life. It promises to limit and limit the time of helpless, suffering existence.

The counter thesis represents Ezekiel J. Emanuel, oncologist and medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s pointing: We’ll postpone the date of our death. The time, however, when we can no longer live fit and active, is moving forward. And drastically. His consequence: He plans to limit his life. 75 is a good age to be remembered positively by family and friends. To be precise, Emanuel is not planning suicide or euthanasia. But after his 75th birthday he will only accept palliative medicine, not curative medicine. No tests for prevention, no nutritional optimization, no exercises for mental fitness. Healthcare in old age exclusively for the well-being, not for the prolongation of life.

Ezekiel Emanuel Healthcare im AlterHe published his position and the underlying statistics in a detailed article in The Atlantic: Why I hope to die at 75. The editor Mareike Kürschner took up a conversation again and now, four years after the statement, asked again (Paywall). Meanwhile Emanuel is 61 years old – the self-chosen end is in sight. We’re in position.

The path to self-determination

Two thoughts stand out: Emanuel describes quite touchingly how the fact of the self-chosen end completely changes his perspective on the years before. How he feels activated to take care of the big questions of life. To attract important people from his environment, to learn, experience, experience… Obviously, the limitation of life expectancy leads to exactly the degree of self-determination and self-efficacy that healthcare providers often promise in vain in old age.

The second idea lies on a higher level: We afford to spend a considerable portion of the health care costs for the last 14 days of life alone. Against this background, the conscious renunciation of the attempt of healthcare in old age to find out a few more months of life is almost revolutionary. As understandable as this attempt may be in individual cases – from an overarching perspective it sometimes seems somewhat desperate.

I put this up for discussion: the better we understand how to prolong human life, the greater our responsibility grows to determine the point in time at which the bow closes with dignity. tbc.