Dr. Frank Hoffmann pioneers a diagnostically superior, personal, low-cost breast examination method by training blind people as skilled diagnosticians. Frank’s approach integrates them into the primary health care infrastructure, while enhancing women’s health care experience and opening an entirely new professional path to a differently-abled constituency.
In Germany, preventive breast cancer diagnosis is either offered through mammography—which is expensive and therefore only routinely available for women over 50—or a superficial (i.e. limited to a few minutes by most German insurance options) manual breast examination available to all women, performed by doctors who do not employ a standardized technique (i.e. there is no mandatory in-depth training for physicians in Germany). As a result of the impersonal and often stressful experience, many women choose not to undergo preventative diagnosis. Consequently, Germany has the lowest participation rate for breast-cancer diagnosis Europe—an indicator of the broader challenge potentially facing many Western health systems where escalating costs create pressures on patient care.
As prevention is critical in the fight against breast cancer, Frank recognized that the existing system required new resources and more cost efficient processes. He found this new resource among blind people, who possess a far better sense of touch and are widely neglected in the German labor market. (A mere 30 percent of Germany’s 1.2 million visually impaired people actually work for an income.) Frank developed the program, Discovering Hands®, which trains blind women to become Medical Tactile Examiners (MTEs). Their superior sensitive touch gives them a higher precision rate and enables them to detect breast cancer earlier than the average doctor. The first scientific study deducted within half a year has shown that in 450 cases, MTEs found more and smaller tumors than doctors. Moreover, the 30-minute breast examination, as compared to the usual 3-minute exam, gives women more time to ask questions and be reassured that they are healthy.
With this model, Frank is not only offering improved and more cost-effective early preventive breast cancer diagnosis, but is also creating a new profession, opening the medical field to the blind. Furthermore, Frank’s program helps seeing patients become aware of blind people’s unique capacities; turning blindness, often considered a disability, into an asset.
Frank always looked for opportunities to improve existing systems that solve social and health problems. After working in a gynecological clinic, Frank, as a young gynecologist, took over a medical practice from his predecessor, who died unexpectedly, shortly after his arrival. After expanding his medical practice, the father of two children quickly recognized that single practices in suburban regions were no longer competitive nor sustainable organizational models. He used his entrepreneurial talent to convince other doctors to open a joint practice with him, becoming one of the first gynecological joint practices in a suburban region.
„This for-profit venture is one of the first of its kind and a pioneering model of how medical practices could become more efficient and fit for future changes in the health care system.“
Eventually, Frank and seven other gynecologists merged their practices into what is today the biggest joint practice in the Duisburg region, the Praxis für Frauen. A leader in the field of gynecology, in 2001 Frank founded, Quality Circle of Gynecologists in Duisburg, a round table guaranteeing standardized quality control in the region of Duisburg, and led it until 2009. In 2009 Frank set up a service company to outsource the administrative and IT work of his joint medical practice. This for-profit venture is one of the first of its kind and a pioneering model of how medical practices could become more efficient and fit for future changes in the health care system. After the mammography law changed in 2005 Frank could no longer serve his patients with the quality of care he wanted. When he realized that his idea could offer employment for blind people, a group highly excluded from the labor market, he wanted to institutionalize his idea and make it known. Since 2004 Frank has developed Discovering Hands® mainly in his free time. In 2010 he founded a nonprofit organization to spread the Discovering Hands® method.