Düsseldorf (dpa) – According to research, the German healthcare system has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to digitization.
A study by the consulting firm McKinsey, published on Tuesday, estimated the saving potential of digital applications at EUR 42 billion a year, representing around twelve percent of healthcare and care costs in Germany.
It is not only about direct savings, but also about avoided costs and better performance. If, for example, digital monitoring systems are used, the disease can be detected early – this means in the first place that there is no expensive hospital stay.
“When used properly, digitization can bring huge benefits to the healthcare sector,” said McKinsey study author Stefan Biesdorf. Progress is slow compared to a similar investigation in 2018. At least there are positive examples: many more appointments are now booked online than before, and office staff have more time for other activities. Another positive change: during the pandemic, the need for a video consultation with a doctor increased.
Biesdorf and co-author Kristin Tuot describe a wide field where progress is possible. Under the slogan “self-treatment of the patient”, mentally ill people should have greater access to online courses, and diabetics should use digital tools more intensively.
Hospitals “run paper through the house”
In addition, data exchange in clinics should be improved. The still widespread paper economy is a thorn in the side of the authors. “In many hospitals, a lot of people are out and about just passing paper through the house,” says Biesdorf. And he shakes his head to admit that faxes are still used in healthcare.
Two experts demonstrate the benefits of digitization using the example of a patient who suffers from heart failure and has been discharged from hospital. Then the technology is used, among other things, to monitor its weight. The data is sent to the clinic and evaluated there. If the weight goes up, something is wrong – “then you can act quickly and call the patient on an outpatient basis,” says Biesdorf. Without the technology, he would probably have to go back to the hospital later.
Biesdorf also considers the so-called These are online tools that the consumer can use to obtain an initial health assessment. If there are no serious symptoms, you can save yourself a trip to the hospital emergency room and wait for your GP to reopen.
Great potential in the field of e-prescriptions and electronic patient summaries
Overall, digitization in the German healthcare industry is progressing slowly. On the one hand, there are data protection concerns, and on the other hand, doctors and pharmacists are concerned about application problems in everyday life. For example, an electronic patient file has already been introduced, but is not used very often. Another digital mammoth project is an e-prescription, which should actually become mandatory in January. However, after criticism from the healthcare industry, responsible semi-public company Gematik changed course and continued the voluntary testing phase.
McKinsey experts see enormous potential for efficiency in both the electronic patient file and the ePrescription – here, too, they insist on faster speed. For example, in Austria, the e-prescription was implemented well and fairly quickly, says Biesdorf.
What are the representatives of the industry saying? The national president of the German Association of Family Physicians, Ulrich Weigeldt, confirms that “the potential for digitization in the healthcare system is fundamentally enormous.” But this is not a new discovery. “The extent to which it makes sense to break down the potential into individual applications and then put a tag on them is another matter. Such calculations have little to do with the reality of care. “
Many impractical suggestions?
GPs are “pleased with every digital innovation that improves patient care and provides a real relief to practice.” However, Weigeldt complains that “the vast majority of solutions developed to date according to the Gematik specification are impractical.” The process of registering an electronic patient file is too complicated. On the other hand, a spokeswoman for Gematik emphasizes the progress of the case. A different approach is also planned, which will open up new opportunities and added value.
Eugen Brysch of the German Foundation for Patient Protection is in a bad mood as he watches the study. He sees it as a failure of the various actors in the healthcare system at the expense of patients. Hospitals, doctors in private practice, therapists, pharmaceutical companies, medical and aid companies “didn’t want them to look at the cards” and they made good money. It has to stop. “The Federal Minister of Health has been asked to exclude service providers that are not involved in digitization,” says Brysch.