Dr. Larissa Schwarzkopf

Providing Optimal Treatment for Patients with Lung Disease

A stay abroad in Gurgaon, India was crucial in shaping the future career of Dr. Larissa Schwarzkopf. As a consultant for Epos Health India, the health economist saw first-hand what a challenge even elementary medical care can represent. Back in Germany, she asked herself the question whether our health system really works ideally – and found several weak points. Since then she has been working on ways to efficiently and sustainably treat patients with lung disease.

Photo: HMGU

Lung diseases are gaining in relevance – also as a cost factor in the healthcare system. Dr. Larissa Schwarzkopf, head of the new young investigator group “Economics and Management of Lung Diseases”, has far-reaching goals. She wants to improve the situation of patients with lung cancer, COPD, interstitial lung disease and/or lung transplants. In her research, she is integrated into the Institute of Health Economics and Health Care Management at Helmholtz Zentrum München and into the German Center for Lung Research (DZL).

Working in a network 

Thanks to this cooperation, the scientist has access to numerous sources. These include anonymized, primary data-based patient and population cohorts such as from CosicoNet, the Children's Interstitial Lung Disease (ChILD ) cohort or the KORA platform (Cooperative Health Research in the Region of Augsburg) as well as person-specific secondary data of the statutory health insurance companies. Using self-designed questionnaires, Schwarzkopf and her research group collect primary data by conducting patient surveys themselves, whereas their secondary data-based research relies on data which are collected routinely (mainly for billing purposes) without a specific scientific research question. 

Avoiding frictional losses... 

Larissa Schwarzkopf has already found a weak point in the existing system: “For patients with lung diseases there is currently no smooth transition between outpatient and inpatient care providers.” When practicing pulmonologists prescribe drugs or fine-tune drug dosages for their patients, the hospital does not necessarily receive this information. At the same time, data from the hospital is not sent on to the patient’s physician once the patient is discharged. Moreover, only a small percentage of patients receive outpatient care from a specialist physician, and only a fraction of patients take part in disease management programs (DMP) for asthma or COPD. DMP are structured, evidence-based guidelines for the optimal treatment of chronically ill people. The health economist sees a potential solution in improved communication processes, but also in a single database for all care providers. “Here it is up to the lawmakers to provide incentives”, Schwarzkopf said. 

... and assessing new treatments 

The second question: What added value do innovative treatments actually have? Schwarzkopf compares the additional costs of a treatment with its added value. The benefits can often be measured in terms of the self-perceived quality of life of those affected, which Schwarzkopf rates using internationally comparable scales such as the EQ-5D Health Questionnaire. Cost-benefit analyses offer health insurance companies the opportunity to use their tight funds in a targeted way. Here the new young investigator group plans to offer detailed disease cost analyses: “After all, knowing what health care expenses or what economic costs are associated with a disease are the starting point for the question: Must something be done or not?” Larissa Schwarzkopf‘s goal is to make a contribution towards providing efficient, sustainable medical care for people with different lung diseases.