Digital Health: Why Germany Should Defend Its Position
When it comes to digital health, not everything is in perfect order in Germany. But a stronger commitment on the part of politicians and promising new technologies present the prospect of a bright future.
It was not only the soccer World Cup that didn’t go at all well for Germany this year. There are also considerable deficits with regard to digital healthcare in Germany, as the current 400-page study in German entitled “SmartHealthSystems – Digitalisierungsstrategien im internationalen Vergleich” (an international comparison of digitalization strategies) that was published by the Bertelsmann-Stiftung describes in detail (published in November 2018).
The authors summarize the unsatisfactory current situation as follows: “While the most important patient data has been stored in electronic files and prescriptions have been transmitted digitally for several years in other countries, Germany is still working on establishing the foundations of a digital network and predominantly exchanges information on paper.” There also seems to be a lack of motivation among specialists to deal with this topic at the moment.
Germany Ranked below Austria, France, and Spain
This is reflected in the international ranking of digital healthcare systems, where Germany ranks 16th out of 17. Germany is thus trailing far behind; Only Poland performed even more poorly with 28.5 points in the digitalization index as compared to Germany’s 30.0 points.
The top five spots, each with over 70 points, are occupied by Estonia, Canada, Denmark, Israel, and Spain. Our German-speaking neighbors also have a better grip on the healthcare situation than we do. Austria ranks 10th with 59.8 points, and Switzerland is 14th with 40.6 points. The authors of the study also acknowledge that France, which is just ahead of Germany with 31.6 points, is quite a few steps ahead.
What the authors criticize about the situation in Germany:
- Lack of superordinate strategic orientation
- Lack of financial incentives
- Lack of certified solutions
- Too little effort on the part of politicians to drive the topic forward
Useful Steps “Made in Germany”
In the overall analysis of the international comparison, this means: Do not tackle a complete system or overall architecture, but take small steps to promote innovations with open data models and interfaces in a need-based, modular, and use-based way. This may sound like a complicated conclusion, but it isn’t really. Cooperation with the various players in the healthcare system, usually insurance companies, providers, and the IT industry, is absolutely necessary in order to offer coherent solutions on both a national and regional level.
One of Germany’s particular weaknesses is that, in direct comparison with the other countries, there does not seem to be much willingness to cooperate, in particular between the autonomous players. It is often the case that no agreements are reached on central issues for a long time and there is no common objective.
The discourse on digital health in Germany is currently dominated by issues relating to liability and data protection law. The actual opportunities of digitalization are pushed into the background. At least politicians have recognized the problem and intend to launch numerous initiatives in the near future to improve digitalization. However, a strategic approach on how to integrate specialists in the healthcare sector is still mostly missing.
Patients in the USA Are Being Treated through Virtual Reality
While the situation regarding digital healthcare in Germany still leaves much to be desired, other countries have come a lot further. In its study entitled “Digital Health Tech Vision,” consulting firm Accenture indicates the possible scenarios in which new technologies can be used in medicine.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can use algorithms to help doctors diagnose injuries via a smartphone or to monitor the wellbeing of care recipients remotely. However, care should be taken to ensure reliability and the observation of patient rights when using AI. If this is ensured, the results can be impressive. One hospital in the USA states that it has avoided 800 unnecessary visits by using AI.
Virtual reality (VR) is already widely used to treat post-war trauma. Patients are taken back virtually to the place where the disaster occurred and relive the events of an explosion or attack. This helps them to cope with the experience. This method has already been used successfully. Furthermore, external specialists can use VR to assist the attending physicians with complicated surgeries without being there in person. Medical training can also be optimized with VR.
The verification of data is another big trend. The healthcare sector is becoming data-driven to an ever-increasing extent, but it must be ensured that this data is reliable. Hackers frequently launch bot attacks to steal or tamper with data. Comprehensive security mechanisms must be in place in order to prevent data manipulation.
One of these mechanisms that can ensure the authenticity of data is Blockchain. Blockchain is familiar from cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, where it has acquired a somewhat dubious reputation. However, the possible applications extend much further, and Blockchain can help track shipments in the supply chain and ensure that patients receive the correct medication at the right time. Blockchain can also monitor money transactions, thereby ensuring greater financial security. Blockchain is already established in the banking industry. The medical industry is still experimenting with it, but the potential for optimization is huge.
In hospitals, intelligent environments with edge architectures and cloud connections can provide greater flexibility. Analysis tools can evaluate data right at the point of origin, thereby allowing the drip rate of infusions to be regulated automatically, for example. Hardware and software robots can thus monitor and care for patients.
Competent Guidepost for the Healthcare Sector
With its innovative peopleIT concept, Proservia can help with overcoming organizational obstacles in healthcare and point out the way toward true digitalization. With a high level of technological expertise, Proservia indicates possibilities for optimization by means of using new technologies and integrating specialist personnel. With its profound expertise in compliance, Proservia ensures that the legal framework conditions are complied with and that patient rights are always observed. In doing so, the expert company minimizes the concerns about digitalization and can help ensure that the German healthcare sector does not miss the boat.
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