“If we want to meet the challenges our aging society must face, we need adequate funding.” – Interview with the Congress President

The motto of the DOG 2016 is “Ophthalmology – an all-embracing discipline”.
Congress President Professor Horst Helbig explains why he has chosen this motto, what is new and what the participants can look forward to. Interview with the Congress President Professor Horst Helbig.

Question: Professor Helbig, this year´s congress motto is “Ophthalmology – an all-embracing discipline”. What emphasis do you want to set 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.

Our patients consider their vision as an extremely important asset. Especially in old age, vision is threatened by the most common widespread eye diseases. Vision is of inestimable value at every stage of life, even in old age, because it allows participation and quality of life. Anybody who is in contact with elderly relatives will confirm that. Measured by this relevance, ophthalmology is quite a large field. If we want to meet the challenges our aging society must face, we need adequate funding. In addition, research on newer and better treatments is of utmost significance. This is the message we are consciously attempting to present to the outside world at this year´s congress under the motto “Ophthalmology – an all-embracing discipline”.

Question: Previously, ophthalmologists were primarily focused on optimization processes in the sense of error-free best practices. You have now initiated the new formats “From Saul to Paul” and “Learning from mistakes”, which deal with failures and aberrations. This is at least unusual.

This is perhaps unusual, at least in Germany. It may have to do with liability aspects but also with mentalities. In Great Britain, however, open discussion of failure within the medical community is much more widespread. Of course, there as here, the open handling of “failures” serves to prevent them in the future. In order to convince us of this view, Professor Heinrich Heimann from the Royal Liverpool University Hospital will first highlight briefly the differences between English and German error culture in the symposium “Learning from mistakes”. Then four experienced colleagues will follow, presenting five errors each – their own as well as others – from one sub-specialty. At this point, I would like to explicitly thank my colleagues for their courage to bring this unusual format to life! The new symposium “From Saul to Paul” requires courage as well. In focus here is the fundamental question of how a doctor manages to work in a field that is subject to constant change. In other words: how can I recognize whether the new method is only marketing hype or if it really brings benefits for the patient? At the end of the day, in many cases only the “trial and error” principle remains an option for the clinician. This in turn demands the courage to go against the grain of conventional views, abandon conservative positions and recognize chosen aberrations as such. In this sense, experienced clinicians will speak about how they have dealt with dead ends and u-turns in retinology, the difficult genesis of sutureless vitrectomy, the current controversy over minimally-invasive glaucoma surgery and trabeculectomy and the assumption that refractive surgery is only “lifestyle medicine”. Personal experiences and considerations about decision as to how to handle innovations should be exchanged in an open discussion with colleagues. Clean “evidence-based” decision paths are rare when it comes to innovations. Thus, in addition to the exact science, medicine sometimes is an “art of healing” that cannot be entirely without experience and a “gut feeling” on the part of the clinician.

Question: What scientific highlights can participants look forward to?

This is where I want to first off point to the keynote lectures. We have once again succeeded in attracting eminent experts who are presenting the latest knowledge in their specialist field. Australian ophthalmologist Professor Minas Coroneo has studied the pathophysiology of ocular epithelia and the ocular effects of sunlight for many years. In his keynote lecture “The sun and the eye” on Thursday, he presents how light can damage the eye. Keynote speaker Professor Morten Dornonville de la Cour follows on Friday. With the exciting title “Pseudophakic rhegmatogenous retinal detachment (A few hints to the blame game)”, the Danish retinal specialist will demonstrate the epidemiology of rhegmatogenous retinal detachments, their risk factors and influences of cataract surgery – an absolutely explosive topic for refractive lens surgery in near-sighted people. On Saturday, the series of keynote lectures concludes with a special highlight: the DOG awards the Albrecht von Graefe-Medal to Professor Eberhart Zrenner and I want to heartily recommend his Albrecht von Graefe memorial lecture on “Ophthalmology as a leading medical discipline” to every congress participant. Eberhart Zrenner defines the pioneering role of ophthalmology in biomedicine and covers a wide range of topics from gene replacement therapy, neural stem cell transplantation and neuroprotection to optogenetics and small molecules; this outstanding researcher thus demonstrates the wide spectrum of ophthalmology not only in clinical care, but also in science.

Question: In your opinion, what is particularly relevant for practical application this year?

There would be so many things to mention! By way of example, I would like to mention the symposium “Over- and undertreatment of glaucoma”, which focuses on borderline cases relevant to practice. The symposium “10 years of anti-VEGF therapy” compares the care situation in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and thus gives a benchmark of treatment regimes. Last but not least: “DOG update – state of the art”, a compact overview of the most important scientific findings of the last fifteen months. Since 2013, the still relatively new opportunity for continuing education has offered recommendations for clinic and practice and is, for this reason, enjoying increasing popularity. Alongside these there are a large number of relevant courses, for example re-certification of IVOM or postoperative care for malignant diseases. We also have options for participants from abroad; for example, the course “Principles and clinical impact of optical coherence tomography (OCT)” is given in English.

Question: Your personal tip for the congress?

Take the opportunity to enter into discussion with both poster authors and the experienced moderators in small and informal settings. The current format, with the use of headsets and by grouping according to thematic content, has made the poster sessions a real highlight of the DOG.

Moreover, this year again I look forward to events that impart knowledge in an entertaining way – for example the symposia “Consilium diagnosticum” and “DOG controversy”.