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Is the healthcare sector allowing digitalisation to pass it by?

Jun 14, 2021
2 min.
The German healthcare sector is hesitant about digitalisation despite its many opportunities. Concerns about digital identity dominate.
Sonja Spaccarotella

While the whole working world is undergoing rapid digitalisation brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, the German healthcare system seems unimpressed by the trend: one in five doctors communicates with their patients by post, while a further 20 per cent use fax machines. This was revealed in the results of a survey of 500 doctors, presented in January by the Hartmannbund Medical Association. The telephone is still the most popular means of communication. Digital video consultations and electronic prescriptions are still on a distant horizon. Or does the future in fact hold more promise? On 18 June, during the upcoming nationwide "Digitaltag" (digital day) — the current situation with regard to digitalisation in the healthcare sector will be set out, focusing on digital identity and suitable protection measures, in the form of identity and access management processes (IAM). 

Faster exchange of data, lower levels of complexity and improved communication — these are just a few of the benefits of digitalisation that are applicable to the healthcare sector. The desire for digital technology in the day-to-day running of clinics and practices exists, but it is not being realised. 

Digital divide in the medical profession 

Germany's medical profession is divided over digitalisation in healthcare, according to studies by the Hartmannbund Medical Association. These show that 86.4 per cent of clinicians are focused on the opportunities digital technologies present in their daily work, while just 10 per cent are more concerned about potential risks. A different situation for private clinicians: only 53 per cent of them are open to digitalisation; for almost 40 per cent of them, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. The digital divide between doctors themselves is even wider. Female practitioners, for example, are more open and positive towards digitalisation than their male colleagues. Furthermore: the younger the doctor, the more potential they recognise in digital technologies, such as the prescription of health apps. 

High levels of complexity, due to multifaceted security measures

The slow take-off of digitalisation in the healthcare sector can be attributed to three key factors: data misuse scandals in the past, concerns around the high level of investment, and the increased effort involved in implementing digital technologies. Alongside other measures, hospitals have been obliged to hook up with the telematics infrastructure since the beginning of 2021. Specially extended and holistic protective measures are required to maintain this cross-institutional communication infrastructure between hospitals, doctors and pharmacies, and to ensure the IT systems' functionality. What results is a patchwork of security standards across the healthcare sector, created by the varied IT system requirements, which fosters uncertainty. The fluctuation of patients between medical practices should not be underestimated: medical findings on paper can quickly end up lost in transit between practices and necessitate repeat examinations. This makes end-to-end digital process chains all the more important, right across the healthcare sector. 

Legally assured digitalisation 

To exploit synergies in the German healthcare sector using digital technologies and thereby optimise patient care, the German Bundestag passed the third act on healthcare sector digitalisation at the beginning of May 2021, titled the Gesetz zur Modernisierung von Versorgung und Pflege (DVPMG) (Act on the Modernisation of Care and Nursing). This will bring the expansion of telemedicine and the telematics infrastructure within reach; the law is already scheduled to come into effect halfway through the year. Along with the increased use of health apps, it will simplify the use of video consultations and enable doctors to retrieve digital patient data. Furthermore, the functions of electronic patient files will be expanded, and the range of medicines for issue by electronic prescription will be increased. 

With increasing digitalisation, the relevance of data security for hospital doctors and GPs is growing, alongside pressure from the public. This is because digital identity and its protection against cyber attacks has long ceased to be a marginal subject. Optimal usability needs to be combined with maximum security. For this to be achieved, congruent digital processes in the form of an IAM infrastructure are needed across the entire healthcare system: identity and access management applications ensure secure access to patient data, as well as smooth exchanges between authorities, doctors and hospitals. At the same time, ease of use, reduces the associated workload. The end result of this development will be a plus in terms of digital security identity, and for the future of digitalisation in healthcare.

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