As the PEARL chair and professor for Digital Medicine at the University of Luxembourg, Jochen Klucken researches how technology can be effectively integrated into healthcare procedures. In this interview, he talks about his work and the state of digital medicine in Luxembourg.
How do you ensure that technology actually improves the lives of patients and healthcare professionals?
We look at digital medicine from a holistic perspective. That’s why our team is made up of social scientists, data scientists and of course clinicians, but also user experience designers and even health economists. Together they think about the different aspects of how technology can help make patients’ and healthcare professionals’ lives more efficient, and improve healthcare in general.
Our research aims to show that digital apps for example have a clinical benefit. We only approve evidence-based tools that have gone through various experiments which have given us a concrete understanding of what benefit they can bring and what safety aspects we need to consider while using them.
Germany has already approved digital medical applications as accepted treatment options and even reimburses them. How advanced is Luxembourg in this process?
Currently, we are discussing this with ministries and regulatory bodies to see how we can implement the same in the Luxembourgish healthcare system. Luckily, Luxembourg is very open to these kinds of innovations. Maybe Luxembourg could even become an ecosystem where we can develop and test such apps for regulation-based assessments which benefit these health technologies.
“We need to ensure that public and private health players align their interests with respect to data protection and transparency.” Jochen Klucken, PEARL chair and professor for Digital Medicine at the University of Luxembourg
How will these health applications impact healthcare professionals’ and patients’ lives?
Instead of replacing jobs, I think these tools can support the workload of healthcare professionals. I think health apps will fundamentally change the way healthcare works because they will enable us to have more data about patients and make better decisions to treat their health issues.
Of course, the discussion of data management and privacy is a big discussion right now but we are working on it in Luxembourg and on a European level. While it’s a big challenge to solve, the benefit from these apps is going to be huge and therefore we need to find a way to use them in a privacy-preserving way.
Apps can support both behaviour and communication changes but first, we need to change our healthcare procedures to complement an apps’ capabilities. Healthcare professionals will also have to increase their digital literacy skills to be able to make sense of the technology and the data it collects.
What digital health projects are you currently involved in?
We are currently setting up this digital connection for Parkinson’s care in Luxembourg that connects patients and healthcare professionals and supports clinical research on these patients. It’s really a joint development where both patients and professionals get together in co-creation workshops to discuss their needs and experiences of using these new tools.
How can startups better support digital innovation in healthcare?
There are two types of businesses in this sector. The big platform providers and the small startups that work on very specific problems. Both have to come together in a market that has not been defined in a time of a lot of fear and uncertainty.
While this is a bit of a challenge right now, everybody also knows that this market will become huge in the coming decades and that the benefits we will get from these new technologies will be just as big. However, to ensure that everyone benefits, we have to align these innovations with the efficiency of our healthcare costs which have steadily increased over the last 20 or so years. Soon, we will reach a moment where these costs become too high and then we have to ask ourselves which innovations are necessary and cost-effective and which aren’t.
Right now, this sector is still very challenging for startups because it’s so young and access to financing is far from perfect. I can only encourage them to not lose faith because it will become better as more and more interest is coming from across Europe.
How do you expect healthtech to impact public health in the long run?
I think the long-term impacts will come from the data-driven medical services, which means these apps will show how good they are in the next 10 to 20 years. In general, all these apps are data-driven so we will better understand how your disease affects you on a personal level and how to treat your problem best.
Since data rights will become more and more important as digital becomes increasingly part of healthcare, we need to ensure that public and private health players align their interests with respect to data protection and transparency. Only then can we ensure that the impact of technology does not interfere with public health.