From the point of view of the scientist and former President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Lothar Wieler, Germany is far behind when it comes to digitization in the healthcare sector. He expects that artificial intelligence (AI) can also play a greater role in therapy decisions in the future, as Wieler told the German Press Agency.

After eight years at the top of the RKI, Wieler moved to the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, a privately funded IT research institute, in April. The 62-year-old is spokesman for the so-called Digital Health Cluster there. His goal is to advance digitization in the public health system and thus promote the health of the population and prevention. Data-driven applications play a role in this. Wieler was one of the most important corona explainers and regularly informed the public about the development of the pandemic.

“We’re far behind”

Wieler now said on digitization in the healthcare system: “We are way behind, for the fact that we are a country that is very wealthy and has a lot of intellectual, financial and technical resources. I mean, there isn’t even an electronic patient file for a large part of the population.” Until now, doctors have lacked important data that would help them better treat patients with more complex medical histories.

Digitization costs energy. “But there will be no way around it,” said Wieler. “I can only keep my fingers crossed for the respective federal health ministers that they will implement this as successfully as possible.” Germany is not innovation-friendly in the field of digital health. “Healthcare is extremely regulated, and in a highly regulated environment, it’s just hard to create change.”

No absolute security

There is no such thing as 100% security against misuse of data. “However, we are researching tools for the best possible data protection,” said Wieler. “Everyone has concerns and wants them to only give the information to those who need it.” For this there must be an honest and open discussion – also about the fact that the many groups – such as patient representatives, health insurance companies, associations of statutory health insurance physicians, hospitals, resident doctors, legislators – have certain interests. “And they don’t always fit together one hundred percent.”

From Wieler’s point of view, the use of AI will also play an increasingly important role in clinics. “It will definitely be the case that the people who decide something or who seek information will suddenly receive significantly more and faster information than was previously the case.” A clinic doctor who has to make a decision about antibiotic therapy, for example, can then use data to target a specific antibiotic in a more targeted manner. “Things would be much easier to do with digitization than is currently the case.”

“AI will bring about major changes in society, for sure. And it’s good if you’re aware of the dangers and develop things in such a way that they bring as much benefit as possible,” said the scientist. “Well, for me it’s a blessing and a curse, and we have to do everything we can to ensure that the blessing outweighs the curse.”

At the Hasso Plattner Institute, Wieler wants to work on a project to monitor genetic sequences of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and improve access to data. During the pandemic, monitoring changes in the genome of virus mutants played an important role.