Frank Hoffmann

Ashoka Fellow
Berlin, Germany
Fellow Since 2010


This profile was prepared when Frank Hoffmann was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.
The New Idea
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.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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