Digitization: An opportunity for the healthcare industry
Smart and digital – that’s how our everyday lives can be described in many respects today. In healthcare, too, digitization is to be driven forward to help both doctors and patients operate more efficiently and flexibly. But when it comes to digital standards, the gap is wide. While some practices and clinics are already using telemedicine services such as online booking systems, which, for example, automatically send patients a reminder for the booked appointment by text message or e‑mail, for others the topic of digitization has not yet arrived. The fax machine and the telephone remain the cornerstones in some facilities. Yet the many smart developments hold great opportunities for the healthcare industry.
Digitization by law: TSVG and DVG
Politicians in this country take a similar view and have already obliged health insurers to provide their insureds with an electronic patient file from January 1, 2021, with the Appointment Service and Care Act (TSVG), which was passed by the Bundestag on March 14, 2019. In addition, insureds who so desire will also be able to access their electronic patient file using their smartphone or tablet in the future. Furthermore, the “Act for Better Care through Digitization and Innovation” (Digital Care Act — DVG), which was passed on November 7, 2019, enables further e‑health offerings such as e‑prescription, health app prescriptions and online consultations. In the case of treatments, it should also be possible to access a secure healthcare data network.
The plan is for patients to be able to use the digital services across the board as soon as possible. Pharmacies (by the end of September 2020) and hospitals (by January 1, 2021) are therefore required to connect to the telematics infrastructure (TI). Midwives and physiotherapists, as well as nursing and rehabilitation facilities, can voluntarily connect to the TI free of charge. Physicians who still do not want to connect will have to accept an increased fee deduction from March 1, 2020.
Support and relief
The vast majority of people already make use of digital gadgets in many areas of their lives. So it’s no surprise that digitization also holds some opportunities for the healthcare industry. The laws that have been passed can simplify many processes and make the healthcare system even more efficient. Ultimately, it is not only the patients who benefit from this but also the doctors, therapists, nurses, etc., who are significantly relieved and supported in their everyday work by telemedicine. Certainly, there will be some more developments to observe in the coming years.
The University of Health in Bochum surveyed for this purpose. The respondents saw positive effects of digitization primarily in time savings, standardization of therapy processes, interprofessional communication, and simplified documentation. Rhön-Klinikum AG, one of Germany’s largest healthcare providers, also sees digitization as the key to generating greater efficiency in patient care as well as in internal workflows: “Digital networking with intelligent IT solutions and innovative communication systems opens up new avenues in healthcare.”
In many ways, new approaches to care are demonstrating the highest levels of evidence and effectiveness. When staff resources are scarce, for example, digital training and therapy devices can serve as supervisors. In telerehabilitation, they take charge of monitoring execution and ensuring correct adherence to movements and therapy plans. If there is no physiotherapist nearby, for example, a digital training program is available as a substitute. Health economist Prof. Dr Jürgen Zerth does not see digitization as product innovation, but rather as an organizational innovation: “For it to succeed in the healthcare system and generate benefits, it must become part of a functioning continuüm of care. The most sophisticated digital solution is of little help if the analogue environment of patients, therapists, facilities and payers does not keep pace.”
However, the new directions can be taken not only in areas such as documentation, billing and scheduling. That’s because digitization is also on the rise in medical technology. From walking sticks with integrated GPS sensors and emergency call functions to robot-assisted therapy units and virtual reality applications, a wide variety of helpful innovations can be found on the market. People with chronic illnesses can also benefit from digitization. For people with diabetes, for example, it is already possible to keep an all-around eye on and manage their condition via an app.
Numerous future-proof possibilities
Rehabilitation scientist Sophie Rabe also sees great added value in digital applications. In an interview with Rehacare.de, she highlights patient education and patient self-management as central elements of rehabilitation. This is where digitization can come in and provide sustainable support for desired behavioural changes through clear objectives, interactive learning content, feedback functions and social reinforcements. Through teletherapy, therapy progress is immediately apparent to both therapist and patient and can be measurably tracked. In addition, patients have a positive therapy experience and are motivated to achieve their therapy goals with fun and motivation.
Especially in the field of physiotherapy and rehabilitation, there is an increasing focus on digital progress in equipment development. The new therapy and training devices have interfaces to evaluate and document training data and make it quickly accessible. One example is the intelligent Pixformance Station, which uses precise analyses to track patients’ movements and evaluates them in a matter of seconds so that corrective instructions and feedback on the respective exercise execution can be provided. This can significantly relieve therapists in their day-to-day work and care of patients.
Advantages and barriers
The many benefits of digitization in healthcare are quite visible. However, the biggest barrier to introducing the various digital options is certainly the cost factor. Smaller physiotherapy practices and self-employed people in particular sometimes have problems raising the necessary funds, even though they could usually use the digital support most urgently to benefit from time advantages in the event of staff shortages. In addition, with the flood of many different offerings on the market, review and selection can prove challenging for any facility.
A good overview of the various options that e‑health has to offer, as well as how to integrate and finance the same, can be obtained at the many health and fitness trade shows. Many of the billing companies, software companies, developers of apps, web-based applications with digital offerings and digital training and therapy equipment such as from Pixformance present themselves there. Being fully informed about the various offerings is important to find the most suitable and profitable for oneself and one’s facility to extract the greatest and most effective benefit.
Addendum: In the last few weeks, a lot has happened in terms of digitization in healthcare due to the ongoing corona crisis. We will provide some interesting blog articles around this topic here soon.