Networks are an appropriate response to the challenges which face us in every moment of our lives. The need to build social networks exists at every level of our human existence. But since – even if we are not aware of it – we have always lived within networks, this challenge is manageable.
With the creation of the NETWORK-Globalhealth, we, the Network moderators, the boards and the members of the theme and therapy networks we manage, have embarked down a new path of development – one that calls for boldness and enthusiasm and also a vision, a long-term goal, that gives us all the motivation to take the often arduous challenges of network-building upon ourselves. At the same time, we know only too well that this long-term goal or vision can in fact never be reached and that it only exists on an abstract level, with the purpose of motivating us to follow the path which turns a vision into a concrete sequence of planned actions.
Just what exactly is this vision of a world-spanning medical network?
In every doctor, as in every other person, there is also the will to create, discover or develop something special in the course of his/her work. This will, which is inherent in people, is weakened through the competitive market conditions of today, and much human potential which under less competitive conditions could perhaps develop, therefore goes unused. Especially for physicians who, through their choice of profession alone, have documented their commitment to an ethic which is not dictated by the demands of the market economy – i.e. an ethic of seeking to help other people and save them from illness and suffering - it is a personal need to play a role in the further development of medicine. But to enable them to follow the convictions of their ethical principles, they must have a secure financial basis, and this can be created through professional marketing.
These general and abstract ideas can be applied in concrete terms to our current conditions.
The untiring efforts of doctors and scientists are directed first and foremost at combating often fatal diseases such as cancer or HIV/Aids and other deadly viruses that threaten people’s lives. Most recently, the discussion about the possibility of a new pandemic, and the danger of millions of fatalities, in connection with the bird flu virus has once again made clear to us all just how important it is for people to work together in fighting diseases. Leaving the development of new drugs and therapies exclusively to the big companies can make good sense neither for combating the diseases nor for the treating physicians, and most certainly not for the patients, though we should most certainly not forget that without the activities of these big firms the development of medicine would have proceeded much more slowly. In research into new diagnostic methods and new drugs/therapies, there has long been world-spanning cooperation between smaller research groups and specialists, though in most cases still under the sole leadership of bigger companies.
But also the most important common and civilisation diseases call for special efforts in order to gain new answers and develop more effective therapy models. This refers in particular to medical conditions that affect the whole organism, such as rheumatics, gout or allergies, i.e. auto-immune illnesses, as well as obesity. A further aspect of continuous research can be found in our constantly increasing age and the problems this brings, e.g. in our appearance, or in the form of chronic pain or mental problems.
These general problem fields have so far been investigated and developed in many different ways. Viewed at its most basic, international legislation concerning studies on humans has the ethical objective of preventing patients from being degraded into guinea pigs to satisfy the pathological ambitions of individual doctors or scientists who are willing to put the life and health of others at risk. The use of new drugs or therapies should be placed in the hands of ethically acting physicians, in studies which have been approved by ethics commissions.
However, another side of this medal can be seen in the problem that patients who have been diagnosed with an illness that leaves them no more grounds for hope, so that all they have to look forward to is a painful death, are treated by responsible physicians, but against the recommendations of the ethics commissions, with new drugs that have not yet been approved. The introduction of new drugs frequently depends to a very great extent on national laws; even within Europe, it is a process that can take different lengths of time in different countries.
The philosophical and ethical implications of these internal and external conflicts have been presented very convincingly, for example, in the film “Lorenzo's Oil”. But between these two poles, there is a broad range of possibilities within the strict statutory regulations. See, for instance, the development of many therapies from the field of so-called alternative medicine, such as homoeopathy or traditional Chinese medicine.
A factor that should also be mentioned is the increasing loss of autonomy of doctors, which makes itself felt in excessive bureaucracy, falling incomes and a declining sense of identity.
All these aspects of the current situation in modern medicine make it clear that a redefinition of physicians’ identity, characterised by self-determination and responsibility towards the patients, is necessary. Against the background of spontaneously arising networks, such as NETWORK-Lipolysis, which are able to develop new therapy approaches within a very short time with no neglect of patient safety, we can state that the situation described above is positively crying out for a process of reorientation of the kind that manifests itself in the Network idea.
What form could such alternative or further development take, without negating or coming into conflict with other existing structures such as ethic commissions or medical societies? How can autonomous structures be developed and independence preserved, without at the same time wholly rejecting support from major companies? The vision developed by the Network moderators and members rests on several pillars, which encompass all the necessary components of the aspects raised here.
Acceptance of the set pattern of network development
Networks develop on the basis of certain set patterns which have been the subject of investigation by various sciences, e.g. cybernetics and system theory. Further investigation of the conditions in which social networks develop is still outstanding. The most important difference as compared to other organisations and structures is a paradigm change, namely that in a network all the members bear equal responsibility for its development. The NETWORK-Globalhealth is being advised by a system theoretician who regularly coaches the moderators on the constantly broadening challenges.
Chance for new therapies
New therapy approaches or combinations of therapies should be developed under conditions which on the one hand allow them to be developed as quickly as possible and which give them broad-based marketing support, while at the same time providing safety and security for patients and doctors alike. In this context, the NETWORK-Lipolysis can serve us as a blueprint. The NETWORK-Globalhealth is intended to operate as a superordinated coordination structure and contact point for all physicians who have developed a new therapy.
Cooperation with university institutes
Wherever necessary, we wish to seek cooperation with universities and other institutions. The membership fees can, for instance, be used to support precisely defined research in order to ensure the safety of a new therapy. This is something a doctor working on his/her own would not be able to do. The NETWORK-Globalhealth develops the cooperation basis for the relevant research, and also provides the financing for it.
To accelerate development of the network, cooperations may be entered into with particular companies. However, ethical principles are needed in this case in order to avoid any one-sided dependencies. All the Network members are fully aware that many of the developments of modern medicine during the last century were crucially and positively influenced by the large pharmaceutical companies. For business companies, the goal of profit maximisation necessarily plays a key role, otherwise they would not be able to survive within our economic system. But this also implies that less economical fields of therapy are inevitably be neglected. Additionally, the problem of dependency must also be clearly raised.
We see two possible ways of preventing dependence. First, sponsoring could be done by firms who do not have anything directly to do with medicine, but are convinced of the network idea and view doctors as an interesting target group, e.g. car manufacturers. And second, sponsoring is also acceptable from companies working in the medical sector, provided the company accepts the independence of the Network. An example of this could be the field of fillers for use in aesthetic medicine. If the Network Academy wishes to offer training in the use of fillers, the trainers can specify the material to be used in advance – whereby this should always be the best product for a certain use, so that various manufacturers may be required. A sponsor in the field of fillers would have to accept that as well as his product, competing products would also be discussed.
There is naturally also always the possibility for new medical products or drugs to be presented within the scope of the Globalhealth Academy, provided it is made perfectly clear that a firm or sponsor is responsible for the particular product. Sponsors who are convinced of the NETWORK-Globalhealth concept should please contact Dirk Brandl, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Acceleration in the development of worldwide therapy standards
In many areas, especially in the field of aesthetic medicine, there are currently no worldwide therapy standards. Thus, for instance, minimal invasive aesthetic procedures are rarely the subject of university training. But for nearly all these therapies, standards are essential in order to protect the patients. The same also applies to new therapies for which no uniform therapy standards are yet available. The NETWORK-Globalhealth coordinates the medical approaches towards establishing new therapy standards.
Synergies through international and interdisciplinary cooperation
In modern medicine, specialisation is necessary and unavoidable. But this statement also implies that in many cases network-like structures can be helpful in looking at new ideas, and are able to generate synergies. The NETWORK-Globalhealth and its moderators are in the position to recognise synergy potential, and also make use of it.
A high standard of training can be ensured through cooperation between a large number of doctors e.g. on theme-related projects. The training workshops in injection lipolysis or the Alizonne therapy have been continuously improved thanks to the ideas and suggestions of the participants, and have today reached a level that has set worldwide standards in these two disciplines. The NETWORK-Globalhealth has set itself the goal of establishing worldwide quality standards for various kinds of training.
Joint therapy selection
Cooperation between the members also serves to distinguish appropriate new therapies from dubious suggestions. The collective knowledge of the members provides a pool for decision making which is able to separate the wheat from the chaff. We will therefore only help to develop new therapy approaches by creating therapy networks if the therapies concerned offer genuine progress for patients and physicians.
Patient information and patient security
Networks are one way of minimising the risks for patients when new therapies are introduced. As the past has clearly shown, innovative developments cannot ultimately be stopped through reglementation. When patients hear of a new form of therapy, they are often willing to place themselves at considerable risk. In this case, only comprehensive and completely open information can help. This is how we view new therapy developments. We want patients who are well-informed and therefore able to act responsibly. Through cooperation between a large number of doctors in the case of introduction of a new therapy, the risk is automatically reduced for the individual patient if all information on the therapy is pooled and made available to all members.
In view of falling health budgets, the marketing of therapies and medical practices or clinics is becoming more and more important. Only doctors who are able to survive financially in these very difficult times are able to provide their patients with appropriate treatment. The realisation is becoming more and more widely accepted within the medical profession that besides good medical training, one of the attributes of a good physician is efficient and financially rewarding practice management and optimum external presentation. The NETWORK-Globalhealth itself is already an instrument for external presentation and qualification, but will also offer marketing support in the practices as well as training programmes in the field of practice management.