Interview with futurologist Jeanette Huber

In the interview she explains the consequences of digitisation for the healthcare system. Classical systems and processes are breaking up and need to be redefined. But what exactly does digitisation do to us?

Digitisation is changing the healthcare market in many ways. As a futurologist, you tend to look at the phenomenon sociologically. How are patients changing?

Today, the majority is convinced that the responsibility for health mainly lies with each individual. In the 21st century, the mature patient is shaping the health landscape and it is precisely this group of patients which is playing into the hands of digitisation. This begins with obtaining health-relevant information, where the Internet has advanced to second place after the physician in the order of importance, and continues on to the digital documentation of health conditions.

This points to a paradigm shift. In the past, diagnostics used to be an institutional task. In the future, digital tools in the hands of patients will make “anywhere and anytime diagnostics” possible. It is simpler, cheaper and becoming a tool for health-conscious people.


How are the relationships between the various stakeholders in the health system changing as a result of digitisation?

The healthcare system is a closed hierarchical system of experts with standardised processes to which the patient has to submit. Digitisation is shaking up this system because it is creating networks in the health sector. Networks that connect people, both mobile and in real time. A new culture of relationships is emerging, characterised by participation, trans­parency, openness and the maturity of the individual.

Patients exchange information with each other about physicians and therapies, in the best case physicians network to learn from each other, the industry establishes direct connections to patients. The vision is egalitarian, democratic and open medicine. Digitisation is thus triggering a huge cultural change.


How is this cultural change perceived by healthcare professionals?

For example, network-savvy patients expect physicians to sort out their painstakingly googled health knowledge and create meaningful connections from the individual information snippets. Superficial knowledge is the patients’ great lack of knowledge. In the future, the patient will bring the self-recorded health data to the consultation and the doctor must take these into account. There is a need for innovation when it comes to transparency and patient participation in treat­ment. Communication between the physician and patient also requires rethinking. In future, low-threshold forms of communication will supplement the classic physician appointment. The trend is moving towards more opportunities to exchange in­for­mation with health experts via the Internet in a trustworthy and qualified manner.


Who is leading the way and who sets the tone and speed of digital change in the health sector?

Cost pressure in the health sector acts as a catalyst for everything that promises better results at lower costs. This is a driver of digitisation. However, there is also resistance to digitisation, mainly by the health insurance companies and in­surers. Add to this the attitude of the patients. Even in the digital age, they want to have a personal relationship with their physician.


This inevitably brings us to the question of what can slow down digital change in the health system?

The attitude of patients. Even in the digital age, patients want attention and personal contact. Regardless of their type of insurance. They have a fear that automation will turn face-to-face dealing with people into a luxury. The social role of the physician cannot be digitised. The majority of patients consider more humanity and empathy on the part of physicians to be important when it comes to the health care of the future. Eye contact is more important to many patients than the physician permanently viewing the monitor.


Where is digitisation taking us? What happens once smart and networked devices are established?

Then we have an enormous amount of data to start with. This is actually not a bad thing, because the more you know about diseases, the better you can understand and treat them. However, the problem is that the amount of information grows faster than the best specialist can process it. Against such a background, we will need systems that can process information better and faster than people. Above all this calls for the industry to provide systems that meet the needs of patients and physicians. Nevertheless, not everyone is enthusiastic when machines give them good advice. People want to retain their sovereignty over technology and make decisions themselves.

The human being should be respected as an experienced person and decision maker with special skills. Technology can supplement the person’s capabilities in a targeted manner, but cannot replace them.

Jeanette Huber Associate Director Future Institute
Jeanette Huber, Associate Director Future Institute

Jeanette Huber
Associate Director Future Institute

Jeanette Huber is Associate Director at the Future Institute. Her professional background ranges from a ten-year involvement in the IT industry to several years of experience in an international management consultancy and the management of her own tourism company in South Africa, where she lived until 2000. This multi-faceted life and work biography enables her to pragmatically link the scientific results of futurology with today’s business world.

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