Read the Conversation

EF: What moved you to open the research institute, and what needs are you covering?

DO: I completed my Ph.D. thesis under the esteemed guidance of Prof. Dr. h.c. Bert Rürup, a renowned figure in the field. Professor Rürup served as a consultant to the German government for over three decades and was the Chief Advisor of the Scientific Advisory Board. I served as his assistant during his tenure as president. Working with Professor Rürup exposed me to a wealth of knowledge, particularly in communicating with stakeholders, including government bodies, associations, and companies.  

Though my background is in macroeconomics and mechanical engineering, I developed a passion for interdisciplinary research, which led me to my current role as a professor of international management with a Ph.D. in economics. My Ph.D. thesis centered on the impact of health investments on GDP and employment, focusing on health policy advisory. My work caught the attention of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action - at the time, the Ministry of Economics and Technology, who invited me to continue my research due to our successful collaboration on various government projects.

Our family-owned institute is driven by a desire to make the world a better place. Our projects are not determined by profits but by their purpose and impact. We have three core research areas: sustainability, health, and labor markets. We focus on measuring the impact of companies, associations, and governments and providing social, environmental, and economic data to inform their decision-making.

We work with a purpose. It is part of our organizational vision to embed smart health investments into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on the UN’s 2030 Agenda, with a focus on reducing the social burden of diseases globally. By setting targets and creating strategic plans, we aim, for instance, to contribute towards reducing the social burden of cardiovascular diseases globally by one third before 2030. We encourage companies, associations, and governments to reallocate budgets to achieve this goal, highlighting the potential economic and societal value created.

Our work also provides evidence of how companies and associations can contribute to reducing the social burden of diseases, not just from a Health Technology Assessment (HTA) perspective but also from a macroeconomic point of view. We aim to convince presidents and ministers to prioritize health by demonstrating the potential to create societal value and stimulate resilient growth.

EF: How can we prioritize health, especially with the current issues in Germany?

DO: Following the peak of the pandemic, COVID-19 has taken a backseat on the agendas of top political events, such as the G7, G20, H20, the CEO summit of the Americas, and the UN General Assembly. While the poly crisis with energy shortage and supply chains has understandably led to governments prioritizing cost-saving measures, it has also highlighted the need for investment in emerging technologies and sectors with high market potential and impact on growth and employment.

One sector that deserves such investments is healthcare, which has been inaccurately characterized as expensive rather than innovative. We must use the momentum of COVID-19 to recognize the groundwork, technology, and investment that went into creating vaccines and acknowledge the combination of product, process, and systematic innovation that made it possible.

To change the perception of healthcare, we must start by seeing its potential as a driver of growth, employment, exports, and macroeconomic stability. It is a sector that requires investment but has the potential for a high return on investment. We need to measure and demonstrate the impact of healthcare on GDP to make its value evident to leaders.

To achieve true innovation in healthcare, we must adopt an interdisciplinary vision that considers the product, process, and system and collaborations between governments and other types of organizations. This requires purpose-driven synergies between public and private actors. To achieve innovation in the healthcare sector, we must view healthcare as an investment rather than an expenditure. We must initiate a sustainable positive feedback loop of health investments that drives employment, economic growth, innovation, and cyclical progress in health for all.

EF: What are the most effective strategies for developing economies and governments to invest in healthcare?

DO: Long-term investment in healthcare is vital for developing countries and low-income economies, in a similar vein to investments in infrastructure and education. Alongside representatives from parliaments, NGOs, and the WHO, I participated in the recent G20 Health & Development Partnership meeting which focused on embedding health metrics into the latest quarter, alongside fiscal and economic policies, to measure the UN's return on investments. To achieve this goal, we need to consider the cost of illnesses as a social burden that can be monetized, measure the impact of human capital, including unpaid activities, and evaluate the economic footprint of the healthcare sector. For example, in Germany health investments contribute 12.7% of the GDP and employ 8.1 million people, making it a crucial macroeconomic sector. In Germany, for instance, the health economy employs ten times more people than the automotive industry and 10% of all German exports come from the health economy. Defining common health metrics and translating social impact into a language understood by stakeholders, including companies and governments, is crucial. By doing so, we can help each stakeholder recognize the importance of investing in healthcare and its economic and social benefits.

EF: How do you translate the importance of investment into the language that each stakeholder understands?

DO: To drive innovation in the healthcare sector, accessing new and diverse data is crucial. Simply stating that healthcare is an investment is insufficient; concrete examples and visualizations are necessary. The Health Economy Reporting aims to showcase empirical evidence for the importance of investing in healthcare to ensure a healthier and more prosperous future for generations to come. Investing in healthcare improves public health, reduces the social burden of diseases, and drives resilient economic growth. It is essential to involve all stakeholders, including pharmaceutical and hospital associations, in the process to achieve a paradigm shift. Collaboration and open dialogues between stakeholders are necessary, as highlighted at the World Health Summit in Berlin. With the COVID-19 pandemic fading, there is an urgent need for such collaborative efforts.  

EF: How can we acquire novel and diverse data to foster innovation in the healthcare industry?

DO: Germany has several regulations governing new technologies, which poses a significant challenge. While I am not an expert in the various processes along the healthcare value chain, more evidence is imperative to enhance system efficiency. More real-world evidence is necessary for better health measurement and defining health metrics aligning with the tangible value of various processes, systems, and product innovations. Working with such evidence takes time and effort.

EF: Given the current prominence of data privacy concerns, is it possible to leverage data without compromising data privacy integrity?

DO: Yes, it is possible. The issue of data protection is enormously important but has been poorly regulated for a long time. The key is to balance data concerns with public health interests. Innovation in healthcare provision, especially when digitalizing health systems, requires data to be available. Realizing this goal necessitates a collective willingness to confront the range of interests from stakeholders throughout society and to navigate the political landscape. There are immediate benefits to be gained from digitalization health systems in the way of “low-hanging fruits” which have the potential to yield gains in both the provision of healthcare and productivity. But without available data, effective innovation in health is hampered.

EF: What are the essential takeaways contributing to global healthcare enhancement and comprehension? And, what measures are imperative to transition to better regulatory frameworks to advance healthcare for the economy and society?

DO: In the healthcare system, silos are a significant challenge that must be addressed through a common goal. A health industry strategy for Europe in 2030 should be developed to identify and achieve actionable items. The success of such a strategy has been observed in other countries and could be used as a blueprint. Linking health to climate change could effectively leverage the momentum on the climate side. A success story was the creation of a platform for ministers of health and finance to meet and prioritize health investments. Low and middle-income countries should invest 2-4% and 6-8% of their wealth in health, respectively, and high-income countries should invest 10% or more. Aligning healthcare with sustainability initiatives and reducing disease burden economically and socially should be the focus.

It is a no-brainer that healthcare provides value to society and the economy and, therefore, should be a top priority. Taking a bird’s eye view could simplify the complexity of healthcare. It is an operator to reduce the social burden and diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. The priorities for Latin American countries should be analyzed to ensure that healthcare is at the top – targeting investments into health innovation triggers not only better health, but, significantly, also greater wealth and further innovative capacity. The outcome? Continued improvements in the health of populations. Identifying – and measuring – this positive feedback loop is critical. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic is receding, the significance of health must translate into addressing non-communicable diseases, with cardiovascular disease being a common factor across the world.

April 2023