“I would like to send a signal for this path toward the future …” – Interview with the Congress President

The motto of the DOG 2017 is “German Ophthalmology Internationally”.
Congress President Prof. Dr. Thomas Kohnen explains why he has chosen this motto, what is new and what the participants can look forward to. Interview with the Congress President Prof. Dr. Thomas Kohnen.

Professor Kohnen, the DOG 2017 motto is “German Ophthalmology International”. Which aspect do you want to emphasize with this?

These are the facts: Virtually no other medical discipline treats so many patients suffering from so many widespread diseases with so much success as ophthalmology – close to 18 million Germans are affected by diseases impairing or even threatening their visual capacity. In the struggle over limited resources, some in health policy are tempted to draw what appears to be a logical conclusion: small organ means small field. We must fight this attitude.

The presidents of past years have always provided their own emphases, and thereby generated impetus. In 2016, Horst Helbig called attention to the fact that ophthalmology has been designated as a small field for a long time, but the number of patient visits and interventions have increased immensely. In the previous year, Karl-Ulrich Bartz-Schmidt had highlighted the importance of basic research – quite rightly. I would like to draw focus on what German ophthalmology has achieved internationally and can still achieve in the future. The aspect of internationality has also strongly influenced my personal scientific and ophthalmological life. In this sense, I have endeavored to bring international associations such as ESCRS, EURETINA or IIIC on board with whom we will jointly organize English-language meetings. I intend to see the group of ophthalmologists on lecture tours in America and Asia grow further. I would like to send a signal for this path toward the future by further internationalizing our services. And here it has to be said, the world scientific language is English.

Looking beyond the horizon brings knowledge – in medicine and possibly also in scientific organization. What can the hospital and research location Germany learn from other nations?

I think we have already learned a lot in particular in the outpatient sector. Outpatient centers are a great opportunity to care for patients. However, I do not believe we should perform everything on an outpatient basis – like, for example, in the USA where inpatient ophthalmology is no longer available. In many sectors, such as in the case of severe corneal transplants or glaucoma, I consider it right that we can hospitalize patients. Thus, longer journeys can be rendered unnecessary for patients or relatives who have to arrange transport. The DRGs, however, show this – a journey of more than 100 kilometers is considered a criterion for inpatient admission. I think, by now, we are well positioned in the hospital and have taken the best from both worlds.

Research and researchers from Germany enjoy an excellent reputation worldwide. In clinical research, Germany is on a par with other leading nations such as the USA, UK, France or Japan. In basic research, some countries such as the UK, USA and Japan have a small lead and a range of pioneering concepts. In consideration of the rapid rise of Asian countries, further action is needed to secure and strengthen the competitiveness of Germany and its service providers in comparison globally. Here, the research needs the European context and European funding – but also national support in order to be effective in science.

In your view, what is particularly relevant for practice at the DOG 2017?

For myself personally, I can say that I take onboard important developments following each international congress. Every time I have visited a meeting, I change something in my ophthalmological practice – sometimes only a detail, sometimes entire operation techniques. In that respect, the interactive surgical video features are particularly interesting, and we have more of them in the program this year. And, of course, there are the updates that inform clinical and practicing ophthalmologists in a concise manner on Saturdays and Sundays with respect to new evidence-based knowledge in ophthalmology, which may be important for them. Finally, the basic sciences constitute an important aspect for our daily actions.

What scientific highlights can participants look forward to at the event?

Most certainly, they can look forward to the keynote lectures. Shigeru Kinoshita, Martin Rohrbach and Douglas Koch are eminent experts in their respective fields. All of the international sessions are highlights for me. The IIIC, ESCRS and DGII will discuss “IOL worldwide” and “Hot Topics in Cataract & Refractive Surgery“; EURETINA and the German Retina Society will cover the topic “Age-related macular degeneration”, while the Cornea Society and Sektion DOG-Kornea will address “Innovative conservative and microsurgical approaches to treat various types of corneal dystrophies”. Additional symposia with speakers from overseas, including Japan, will consider “Current trends in amblyopia treatment” and “Novel approaches for treatment of corneal endothelial diseases: An international perspective”. The DOG Task Force Research symposium “Germany goes Europe: European Research Consortia with German participation” revolves around the objectives and results of current large-scale EU projects; the session “The clinical side of experimental gene therapy trials for inherited retinal and optic nerve diseases” takes stock of ten years of experience with gene therapies – and provides a glimpse into the future. Overall, I think we are offering a great mix of clinical research and basic science – with something for everyone.

What is your personal tip for the congress?

Such a choice is difficult for me. I find the DOG exciting from the first to the last minute; I am looking forward to my guest speaker Roland Koch, the former Minister President of Hessen. I will enjoy everything, particularly discussing with colleagues in an informal atmosphere. And, of course, I will participate in the Eye Run and hope to be joined by many fellow runners!