Savings through digitalization
Digital study sees billion-dollar potential in clinics and medical practices
The findings from the radiologist? He should have actually arrived as a fax at the family doctor – but where is he just? Such questions are part of everyday life in the German healthcare system. A study by McKinsey reveals digital deficits.
According to a study, Germany’s healthcare sector has an enormous need to catch up in terms of digitization. A study published on Tuesday by the consulting firm McKinsey estimated the potential savings from digital applications at 42 billion euros per year, which is about twelve percent of the health 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, a disease can be detected early – this does not even lead to an expensive hospital stay.
“If used correctly, digitalization can generate massive benefits in the health sector,” said McKinsey study author Stefan Biesdorf. Compared to a similar study in 2018, progress was slow. After all, there are positive examples: significantly more appointments are now booked online than before, and the practice staff has more time for other activities. Another positive development: the demand for video consultations with the doctor increased during pandemic times.
Biesdorf and co-author Kristin Tuot describe a broad field in which progress is possible. Under the concept of “patient self-treatment”, for example, mentally ill people should have more access to online courses, and diabetes patients should use digital tools more intensively.
In addition, data exchange in clinics should be improved. The still widespread paper economy is a thorn in the side of the authors. “In a lot of hospitals, a lot of people are on the road and just drive paper around the house,” says Biesdorf. And he acknowledges with a shake of his head that the fax is still used in the healthcare sector.
The two experts present the benefits of digitization on an exemplary patient suffering from heart failure who is discharged from the hospital. After that, his weight is monitored with technology, among other things. The data is transmitted to the clinic and evaluated there. If the weight increases, 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 be hospitalized again later.
Biesdorf also evaluates so-called symptom checkers as advantageous. These are online tools with which a consumer gets an initial assessment of his state of health. If there are no serious symptoms, you can save yourself the trip to the clinic emergency room and wait until the family doctor opens again.
Overall, digitalization in Germany’s healthcare industry is making slow progress. On the one hand, there are data protection concerns, on the other hand, doctors and pharmacists fear application problems in everyday life. The electronic patient record, for example, has already been introduced, but is only little used. Another mammoth digital project is the eRecept, which should actually become mandatory in January. But after criticism from the healthcare industry, the responsible semi-state company Gematik changed its course and continued a voluntary test phase.
The McKinsey experts see great efficiency potential in both the electronic patient file and the e-prescription – here, too, they urge more speed. In Austria, for example, the eRecept was introduced well and quite quickly, says Biesdorf.
And what do representatives of the industry say? The Federal Chairman of the German Family Doctors Association, Ulrich Weigeldt, confirms that “in principle, the potential of digitization in the health care system is great”. But this is not a new finding. “To what extent it makes sense to break down the potential to individual applications and then also to provide them with a price tag is another matter. Such calculations have little to do with the reality of supply.“
The family doctors are “happy about every digital innovation that improves the care of patients and represents a real relief in the practices”. However, Weigeldt complains that “the vast majority of solutions that have been developed so far according to Gematik’s specifications are not practical”. For example, the registration process for the electronic patient file is far too complicated. A spokeswoman for Gematik, on the other hand, emphasizes progress on the file. In addition, there are plans for a different approach, which will open up new opportunities and added value.
Eugen Brysch of the German Patient Protection Foundation gets in a bad mood when looking at the study. He sees this as a failure on the part of the various players in the health care system, which was at the expense of the patients. Hospitals, general practitioners, therapists, pharmaceutical companies, medical and aid companies wanted to “not let themselves be looked at in the cards” and earned well. This must stop. “The Federal Minister of Health is asked to exclude service providers who do not participate in digitization,” says Brysch.