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“Digitization Will Be the Modern Doctor’s Co-Pilot” – An Interview with Dr. Dominik Pförringer

Munich is currently establishing itself as the trailblazer in medical innovation in Germany. In addition to many health startups, its development is also being driven by individuals such as Dr. med. Dominik Pförringer. The physician has worked in research and education in the fields of process optimization and digitization for many years. What motivates and inspires him, where health startups can find support, what needs to change for Germany to realize its full potential – we were curious about how the co-founder of the ‘Digital Healthcare Entrepreneurship’ meetup views it all and found out in an interview with the doctor.

Dr. Pförringer, you work as a specialist in orthopedics and trauma at a Munich hospital. At the same time, you’re also active as a startup mentor and VC advisor in the startup scene. How did you become interested in both worlds — which at first glance seem to be quite different?

Active medicine, meaning everyday curative care, helping patients, remains the most attractive profession in the world to me. I think there’s enormous opportunity and a great deal of potential in the digitization of medicine. Entrepreneurs will succeed if they have genuine medical expertise in their team and regularly seek continuous dialog with physicians who are active in their profession. It’s exactly at this interface that medicine of the future is developing. However, Europe and particularly Germany have tremendous potential for catching up when compared internationally.

I think great opportunity is presented by the combination of digitization and medicine, have faith in it being a success and fight for it every day. Many startups lack the medical expertise I am able to provide based on daily clinical practice. That experience gives me a unique understanding of the supply and demand for digital solutions in medicine.

“Germany has tremendous potential for catching up”

What motivates you to champion digitization in medicine?

The future is digital. Inordinate bureaucratic demands, demographic change, a shortage of physicians and an explosion of knowledge: It all calls for technical support for the best profession in the world. We as physicians are responsible for developing and successfully implementing digitization ourselves and to shape it in the interests of our patients.

Moreover: Digitization is fun. Day in and day out, it fascinates me to see how we can use modern technical approaches to solve both complex and trivial medical problems and how agile, successful companies develop as a result.

From your point of view, how can physicians benefit from digitization?

First and foremost for me is how it benefits patients and the health care system. Then it benefits doctors virtually automatically. Digitization is far from a threat; instead, it’s a modern doctor’s knowledge-packed co-pilot. Patients, solidarity systems and, yes, even doctors will benefit from innovative solutions in the end.

What kind of support do Munich health startups receive?

You organize the recently established and extremely successful Munich meetup Digital Healthcare Entrepreneurship in collaboration with UnternehmerTUM. What’s the motivation behind it?

We — meaning Dr. Dominik Böhler, Marina Moskvina and myself — realized there was a shortage of coordinated events offered on the subject at that time in southern Germany. After what I have to admit was a surprisingly positive first evening, we decided to hold the event once every quarter. Since then, a delightfully successful format has developed that is recognized by the scene and is attracting a growing number of visitors.

Beyond successful meetups – where can a digital health startup find support in Munich?

We organize a congress once every year on the subject “Digital meets Clinical Healthcare” in Munich. Dominik Böhler and I teach a class for medical students once every semester called ‘Academy of entrepreneurial medicine’ at the Technical University of Munich. Moreover, the MedInnovate Program by Professor Navab and Dr. Christoph Hennersperger provides the opportunity to experience a hospital from the inside with a team and catalyze startup ideas.

Dr. Dominik Pförringer offers startups advice and assistance.

In addition to that, both the Ludwig Maximilian University and a whole series of private initiatives, for example at Werk1, provide opportunities to exchange information, incubate or accelerate. I’m more than happy to offer assistance to young teams that either want to start a company or have already founded one. That might be in the form of medical information, team organization or financing their venture.

You spent quite a long time in the US and Asia. What kind of inspiration did you bring back with you?

The time I spent in California as well as my MBA in Fontainebleau and Singapore gave me an eye-opening look into the subject of entrepreneurship. Both experiences had a very strong and positive impact on my further development. It’s great to see how openly US Americans think and act. That was where I learned to tackle things with the attitude of “anything is possible.”

Germans intrinsically struggle and identify the risks and reasons why something probably won’t work. People in the US dare to take on new challenges, give things a try and then work extremely hard to make it all feasible and actually implement it all.

In your opinion, what’s the significance of eHealth and telemedicine in the German market?

Unfortunately, they’re much too insignificant right now, but they’ll rapidly grow in significance. There’s growing availability from startups, and both patients and doctors are starting to trust it more. Modern, digital approaches could take some pressure off the current system while also making it simpler for patients, doctors and cost bearers. It can make medicine safer, more efficient, faster and more affordable. It’s all inevitable, for reasons of demographic change alone, if nothing else. We still have a lot to learn from our European and North American friends in that respect.

A current lack of guidance

What we need now in my view is clear guidance for patients. Patients deserve an organized overview and sound evaluation of the jungle of innovative solutions being offered. Furthermore, doctors need sound digital education. That means future physicians will already be able to learn how to handle the promising subject of digitization during their studies.

What are the trends in eHealth?

I see three positive core developments:

  1.  Medicine will become safer. In the future, the digital co-pilot will help doctors access considerably more data and empirical values to optimally adjust their treatment to suit each patient’s condition. In analog medicine, that privilege was reserved for physicians with enough experience.
  2. Medicine will become more transparent, which will make patients increasingly responsible because they’ll be better informed.
  3. Medicine can become more efficient. Antiquated processes, system discontinuity and analog search methods will be optimized or completely replaced in some cases by fields such as AI, deep learning and a great deal of technical expertise.

Medicine of the future: The patient as the focal point

What do you think medicine will look like in the future?

I’m a complete optimist. Medicine of the future will be liberated from time-consuming aspects such as redundant documentation, old-fashioned red tape and antiquated processes. It will return to concentrating on the person who is its focus: the patient. Technological advances and rapidly accelerating innovation will make it possible for us as doctors to always have control over optimal diagnostics and treatment. Doing that takes experienced experts to properly, wisely and proactively pave the way.

The doctor of the future will, more so than today, primarily be a patient’s emotional and empathetic partner in dialog. That will put the focus back on the core objective of healing.

Many thanks for the insights and for the interview.