Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
On average, patients fully understand and process only about 20 percent of the information given during a consultation due to their anxiety and the complexity of the information. They are often left with written diagnostic findings that they do not understand because of the very detailed medical language. This results in their experiencing insecurity about their health and high follow-up costs because of non-adherence and additional consultations. Two thirds of all patients seek more information than their doctors provide. Doctor-patient communication requires a profound transformation.
In recent years, an increased number of patients seek out online information in order to better understand their condition and treatment. However, online information is often complex and does not always apply directly to the situation of the patient. It often leaves more questions than it provides answers. In addition, an old paradigm of doctors being unquestioned authorities still exists among patients, which leads to patients not asking the questions they have during a consultation. Anja Kersten understands that patients cannot solve the problem alone but doctors must play an integral role in successfully reshaping doctor-patient-relationships.
In medical professional training, students do not systematically learn how to communicate in a way that is understandable to patients and also professionally correct and specific. Once they become doctors, the current cost coverage system in the German health system does not incentivize doctors to take time for this type of communication as well. On average, medical students only have a one to two hour training session about patient communication per semester as a medical student, which is conducted by psychologists and actors. In addition, the mindset of being a service oriented doctor who can meet patients at an eye-level is not common among all medical students. Because of the vast amounts of medical information available on the internet, however, it is more important than ever for doctors to improve how they build relationships with patients and the way they communicate information to them.
While an inefficiency at the individual level, the problem of lack of communication in doctor-patient relationships is more systemic: one’s adherence to prescribed treatment has a relationship with both the necessity of the treatment as well as the credibility and communicative skills of the doctor. Lack of understanding by patients about their own health conditions leads to higher costs of treatment. Patients who do not understand the information given by their doctor have a higher risk of hospitalization and longer hospital stays, are less likely to comply with treatment, and are more likely to make errors with medication. In Germany alone, estimates indicate that additional costs due to non-adherence of patients total up to 10 billion Euros each year, representing about 10 percent of all annual spendings for German health insurance.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
When a friends’ mother who was diagnosed with cancer came to med student Anja Kersten asking for help understanding her diagnostic findings from the doctor, the idea of “Was hab ich?” was born. “Was hab ich?” provides patients with the opportunity to send in their diagnostic findings online and have them translated by advanced medical students into an easy to understand language. Through this system, Anja Kersten addresses multiple facets of an existing problem. She educates and builds awareness among medical students about a new way of empathetic, understandable and clear communication. At the same time, she empowers patients to understand their diagnosis and meet their doctors at eye-level, demanding and feeling entitled to clear communication.
Anja Kersten fosters the basis for shared decision making, a new paradigm in doctor-patient relationships. Though starting at the individual level of doctor-patient-relationship, she also moves beyond and systematically includes all important stakeholders – medical students, doctors, medical associations, health insurances and additional partners. In this process she is changing the framework for doctor-patient relationships so that doctors value the ability and time for communication and recognize that clear communication is key to successful and economically efficient treatment.
Anja's ultimate goal is to reshape the health system and patient-doctor relationships so there is no longer even a need for "Was hab ich." She is already influencing medical schools to think about how they teach. She has begun working with a major health insurance company to use her data anonymously to see where the patterns of miscommunication exist. And she has had initial conversations with the Ministry of Health about altering the reimbursement system for doctors, ensuring that discussions between doctors and patients, not just further testing, are appropriately covered.