Hello Dr. Vogel, just looking at your resume to date, it’s immediately striking that you’ve wholeheartedly committed yourself to physics. You studied physics, you have a doctorate in physics, you now work in that area. Yet a key emphasis of your work at your Steinbeis enterprise is health economics. How did that link develop?
As much as I love physics, I’ve always had – and still do have – a soft spot for the application of acquired knowledge. One emphasis during my training and education was biophysics, i.e., the subcategory of physics that investigates and works out biological structures and processes. It’s not a huge leap from there to medical technology. It was in this work that I bumped into the health economist Jürgen Blume, who is now a co-director of our Steinbeis enterprise. We not only share an interest in new technology, but also the belief that, in order to succeed, new technology ultimately has to be financially viable. These days, viability also means checking the potential for German and EU approval or reimbursement to ensure that your efforts pay off. As of October 2013, we’ll be offering a new service: advice on and support with issues relating to medical products and drugs, such as certification, formal approvals, health economics evaluations and reimbursements (HTA compatibility).
My business partner, Jürgen Blume, also headed up a notified body, and, for over a decade, he helped startups get off the ground. At the moment, he’s working on furthering the development of a revised (old) medicine and the companion diagnostics for neurodegenerative diseases. He’s also involved in the training of CRAs, data managers and project managers.
We offer a blend of different experience, which is quite rare, so it’s extremely helpful for young companies.
Medical and technical progress, growing public awareness of health issues and the influence of demographic change all have a significant impact on the increasingly important role of the health industry. Where do you see problems at the moment in the health care industry in Germany and how can they be solved?
There’s already a drive to work cost-effectively and to exploit every potential to save money, and I believe this will intensify, especially given demographic changes. Medical feasibility and the profitability of what is feasible will continue to gain in significance, not only when it comes to technical developments but also in actual medical applications.
On top of that, there’s a problem more related to the economy: how to keep clinical health provision going across the board, despite the exodus from rural areas – which is happening in many regions of our country. Of course I have no catchall solution to this, but I don’t find it difficult to imagine more use of telemedicine in the future, in combination with intelligent devices – equipment that’s easy to operate and transport so that, for example, the most common maladies could be treated at a local level, like in “touring ambulances.”
One example is a product that’s being developed as part of a medical technology startup project we’re supervising. The startup team is developing a device that’s about the size of a small cordless screwdriver that can be used to treat inner ear inflammations in children, purely through physical means – in other words without administering the usual sorts of antibiotics that ultimately have no effect anyway. After half an hour, the child experiences no more pain and doesn’t need treatment with medicines. The device makes it possible to accurately diagnose inflammation in the middle ear, records diagnostic parameters and the actual intervention, and the data can be saved directly in the patient records. We need more of these kinds of “simple” solutions!
That said, and at this point I go back to what was mentioned at the beginning, it’s during this phase of development that lots of young companies fail – not because the idea’s not right, but because they’re not aware of the huge expense of regulatory requirements and the prerequisites that have to be fulfilled to be eligible for reimbursements and are too late to include this in their business planning.
Your Steinbeis Research Center focuses on Medical Technology and Biotechnology. You set it up almost ten years ago with Prof. Dr. Rainer Fink and you also look at IT systems used in medicine, medical technology and biotechnology. What sorts of requirements do you and your colleagues have to consider when developing these systems? And how do you expect these to change in the future?
That’s the big question – and not just for us! What’s more, it isn’t the sort of question you can answer by just focusing on IT systems. In the areas we’re working in, we can’t “simply” be up to date, we have to invest a lot of time and energy researching planned regulatory developments, and, perhaps more importantly, planned changes in the health care system. I’m thinking about things like reimbursement and EUnetHTA. Only then will it be possible to offer products and services that are compatible with the market so that they’re available to the majority of the population through social insurance schemes.
Recently, there’s been more and more talk about eHealth. What challenges will this pose for your Steinbeis company?
I just mentioned data uploads to electronic patient records. I see this data on diagnoses and treatments as the most sensitive kind of personal data, so it needs particular protection. But on the other hand, the IT tools we have today such as clouds and networks are designed to be highly open and allow for data exchange. Even if there are already security mechanisms in place, few patients are likely to want their patient records to be stored somewhere out there in a data cloud.
This is a challenge for everyone involved in this field – to set up data structures using existing IT systems such that people can be sure that their data can only be viewed by those who should see it, and that it can’t be manipulated, to their detriment, let alone made public. But at the same time, there has to be a guarantee that the measures introduced to keep data safe can be implemented as simply as possible, otherwise they’ll be sidestepped in everyday use and it will become a nonsense.
But even then, this is only achievable if we and other young companies keep an eye on the overall situation. Otherwise projects that are actually quite promising won’t work and lots of money and energy will be unnecessarily squandered. Figure: The Magic Matrix of Health Economics © wikipedia.de/Breinig Dr. Martin Vogel is director of the Steinbeis Research Center for Medical Technology and Biotechnology. The center is involved in the development of modules and equipment, scientific and technical research, data evaluation, health economic assessment and market analysis, but also IT systems used in medicine, medical engineering and biotechnology. In 2006 the center was awarded the Löhn Award for outstanding transfer by the Steinbeis Foundation.
Dr. Martin Vogel is director of the Steinbeis Research Center for Medical Technology and Biotechnology. The center is involved in the development of modules and equipment, scientific and technical research, data evaluation, health economic assessment and market analysis, but also IT systems used in medicine, medical engineering and biotechnology. In 2006 the center was awarded the Löhn Award for outstanding transfer by the Steinbeis Foundation.