Digitalization for digitalization’s sake? Obtaining financial support from the Future of Hospitals Fund, the investment program intended to modernize IT equipment and digitalize processes in hospitals, can easily give applicants this impression. Institutes that do not meet the required standards must steel themselves for payment reductions. Sounds unpleasant? The situation could become a lot more uncomfortable in the future if ecosystem stakeholders do not join their forces and collaborate to secure the future of the sector. Because Google, Amazon, and all the rest are not sleeping.
The Federal Social Security Office has earmarked as much as €4.3 billion for the investments required under the Future of Hospitals Act (KHZG). The projects must be completed by the end of 2024. On the assumption that the institutes in the health care system will have achieved the required minimum standard of digital infrastructure by 2025, the question as to what will happen next arises. The health care ecosystem lacks interoperability, and the correction of this deficit can be assured solely if solutions are developed today to meet the challenges of tomorrow. The health care sector remains today the sector with the lowest level of digitalization in Germany. The investments planned between now and 2025 will at least lay a foundation and reduce the gap to other sectors to some extent.
But the real problem lies elsewhere; while the individual players will then be well positioned, there will still be a lack of compatibility and communication among the various segments. At the moment, the sub-areas are viewed in isolation from one another. This leads to even greater isolation, is not very patient-centric, and renders the German health care system uncompetitive in the long term, however. Hospitals, care facilities, physician’s practices, and health insurers should consider today how they want to counter this silo thinking and what measures are necessary to ensure a trouble-free, independent, and sustainable general concept.
Instead of rushing into individual digitalization measures and creating their own systems, institutes would find it worth their while to take a step back and regard the ecosystem as a whole. One question should always be at the forefront of their deliberations: what is important to patients? On the assumption that more and more people are using digital technology in their everyday lives and are transferring the behavior they have learned in other areas to their health as well, this question will become essential for every institution in the health care system. It begins with a simple patient journey characterized by short communication channels, little effort, and quick access to information and ends with the question about the service experience during treatment. How was your breakfast? Did the doctor take enough time for you? Was the caregiver solicitous? A positive experience on all levels, digital and human, ultimately plays the decisive role and is increasingly dependent on mutual interaction.
The Role of GAFA
Reviews on Google and other portals already play an increasingly important role in patients’ decisions about which physician’s practice or clinic they want to see for treatment. Former patients at the institutes post Information about their experience, how they liked what happened during their stay, and whether they would recommend the facility to others. Medical treatment has long since ceased to be a mere formality; here, too, demands are on the rise, and major players are exploiting the development for their own benefit. Another pertinent example is Amazon. The Amazon Care project has passed the trial phase and is likely to become a fundamental part of the US health care system in the very near future. Moreover, more and more medical products are distributed on the online giant’s site. No other platform drives developments as forcefully as this company, and it quickly moves into any empty spaces.
Digitalize Today for Tomorrow
The KHZG has triggered the rethinking of current methods. But we must not stop here. It is only a matter of time before the weaknesses of the many island solutions become clear and others step in to fill the voids. Instead of waiting for third parties to dictate events, the stakeholders should sit down together at the table now and find answers for the future. Rather than surrender the market to Amazon and the others, they should take inspiration from the platform concept to collaborate in the creation and networking of a system that can rightly continue to call itself the best in the world. One that shortens billing paths, makes information accessible, and always keeps its focus on patients. Because no one has any desire to log onto ten different apps for one treatment.
This article originally appeared in Lünendonk Magazine in early 2022.