Information technology on the advance in the health care system, says Fraunhofer study

Karlsruhe 20 September 2007Information technology will open up many new possibilities in preventive health care and in the treatment of diseases by 2020. This is revealed in a Delphi study by the German Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI). But not everything that is technically possible will also be accepted, according to the Karlsruhe researchers.

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Artificial kidneys, robots as nursing staff in hospitals - many new applications are conceivable at the interface of information technologies and health care services. But are they also technically feasible? And above all: Do the patients want them? These questions are answered in a Delphi study which the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research carried out within the framework of the FAZIT project for the state of Baden-Württemberg.

The Karlsruhe institute questioned around 200 experts from research institutions, businesses and associations, asking which IT applications are feasible in the health care branch by 2020, meaningful for the patients and economically worthwhile. The experts consider that most of the proposed 36 applications or theses are technically realisable by 2020, among others, the remote monitoring of patients at risk, a better utilisation of hospital capacities through EDP-supported planning systems, or implants which monitor body functions and automatically release medication as required.

In just six years time, for instance, the experts expect that IT systems will be used for remotely monitoring high risk patients, analysing the information obtained and alerting a doctor should an emergency arise. It should take the same time to develop an implantable chip on which the data necessary for the treatment of the patient will be stored. In 2016, there will be emergency genetic testing in order to quickly identify people who cannot identify themselves, experts predicted. And robots will relieve nursing staff of heavier duties in many hospitals in 2018.

The persons questioned assume that new markets will also develop in this context, especially with technologies which are also relevant in other application fields. This applies for instance to RFID chips, which already play a large role in logistics today. These wireless labels could help Alzheimer patients to find lost objects, or they could store the treatment data and the medication doses of patients in hospitals.

Robots as nursing auxiliaries such as those already tested in Japanese hospitals do not convince the experts. Some of the respondents believe that a fully adequate replacement for human nursing personnel is not technically feasible, simultaneously nursing robots were also classified by most persons as "undesirable", even in view of a threatening shortage of nursing auxiliaries. The experts also see obstacles to other applications, whereby besides technical difficulties, frequently named were problems with user acceptance or open questions in data protection.

For example, 64 percent of interviewees did not like the idea of having a chip implanted which stored their medical data. 20 percent did not approve of emergency genetic testing. Robots in nursing met with criticism from 54 percent of persons interviewed. Nevertheless, they also agreed that demographic change and the lack of trained nursing staff might make robot nurses an inevitable fact. Prototypes are already being tested.

The questionnaire also revealed that most IT innovations in the health care sector were considered highly desirable. These included the standard use of virtual reality in training medical staff - predicted for 2012 - and the development of a retina implant helping the blind to orientate themselves in a room, feasible by 2018.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research or ISI studies the market potentials of technology developments and their impacts on the economy, the state and society. The interdisciplinary research teams focus especially on new technologies, industrial and service innovations, energy policy and the sustainable economy as well as on the dynamics of regional markets and innovation policy.

The complete Delphi study "Future Information Technology for the Healthcare Sector" with analyses and evaluations of realisation times, importance and obstacles of all 36 theses is to be found at the FAZIT project website for downloading, but only available in German.


Leslie Versweyveld

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