What will sports medicine look like in the year 2030?

Interview with Prof. Herbert Löllgen, Chairman, Scientific & Educational Committee | EFSMA, Honorary President | German Federation of Sports Medicine


Medizin und Technologien entwickeln sich stets weiter. Auch in der Sportmedizin kommen diese beiden Themen zusammen. Viele Sportler und Sportmediziner nutzen zum Beispiel Wearables, um Ergebnisse zu kontrollieren. Werden diese Technologien die Arbeit von Ärzten im Jahre 2030 revolutionieren können? Welche Nachteile strecken hinter der Digitalisierung?

Image: Prof. Herber Löllgen; Copyright: private

Prof. Herber Löllgen; © private

MEDICA.de asked Professor Löllgen. Together with other experts, he will discuss the topic of future sports medicine at the MEDICA MEDICINE + SPORTS CONFERENCE.

Prof. Löllgen, to what extent do technologies such as smartphones and fitness trackers already play a role in sports medicine today?

Prof. Löllgen: They already play a part to a certain extent – in the case of competitive as well as recreational athletes. Recreational athletes get tips on how to train and create workout routines. Heart rate monitors are helpful with this for instance. Having said that, these wearables are not always 100 percent accurate. Competitive athletes prefer chest straps since they are far more accurate. Many of them also use apps on the smartphone to monitor their performance. Empirically, their use decreases after two to three months.

What will things look like in the year 2030? In your opinion, what will change patient treatment? What role will digitization play in this?

Löllgen: I believe treatment methods will drastically change by the year 2030 just based on the electronic health card and electronic health record alone. This will lead to a reduction in medical records in paper form. This in turn allows physicians and nursing staff in hospitals to collaborate more efficiently since all data such as X-rays and test results are immediately available in digital format. I also see this change for the outpatient sector.

What’s more, thanks to digitization, patients virtually carry their health records with them should they change physicians, get a second opinion or in case of an emergency. This can also help to prevent drug interactions. Physicians will be fully informed about the drugs the patient is already taking and can prescribe other meds or the like accordingly, without the risk of drug intolerance or overdose.

Do you also see potential dangers or drawbacks of the trend towards the use of more technology?

Löllgen: There are already some drawbacks. According to media reports, there have been many instances already where health insurance providers approved devices such as fitness trackers for their patients. The health insurance providers subsequently have free access to this data and can monitor it. As a result, in some cases, the health insurance provider was able to see the healthy or unhealthy behavior of the insured person and subsequently increased premiums – based on bonus (reward) or malus (penalization), a merit-rating system. Admittedly, many people today are already willing to readily disclose their data. This can be seen when it comes to accepting terms and conditions of Facebook for instance. Data protection officers will still need to improve many aspects even when it comes to wearables.

Image: Prof. Löllgen between other participants at MEDICA MEDICINE + SPORTS CONFERENCE; Copyright: beta-web/Günther

Prof. Löllgen (second from the right) discusses with other participants the topic sports medicine in the year 2030 at MEDICA MEDICINE + SPORTS CONFERENCE; © beta-web/Günther

How can technologies contribute to prevention in the future?

Löllgen: I believe that in about 10 to 15 years, technologies will be the embodiment of prevention. People can already prevent many diseases with exercise, a healthy diet and by avoiding harmful substances like cigarettes and alcohol. Wearables, such as apps on the smartphone, monitor this lifestyle. I could even envision for sports medicine physicians to act as consulting physicians in acute care hospitals and specifically state the type of training program discharged heart or cancer patients need to embark on. We know that this type of training program is able to prevent certain diseases by up to 50 percent.

On Tuesday, you are going to be a part of the panel on Future Sports at the MEDICA MEDICINE + SPORTS CONFERENCE. What topics are important to you?

Löllgen: I will also mention in my lecture what sports medicine might look like in 15 or 20 years. I believe the field needs to increasingly move into the hospital sector. Having said that, the prerequisite is for the Medical Licensure Act to allow medical students to already study sports medicine during their regular studies. So far, this is not the case and I consider this a big drawback. We also need to seriously think about how we can inspire patients to improve their lifestyle. In addition, I will address the subject of dementia because I believe that currently, physical activity is the only thing that can prevent dementia. These preventive measures have to be more forcefully implemented.

Image: Lorraine Dindas; © B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

This interview was conducted by Lorraine Dindas and translated from German by Elena O'Meara.