Five questions for healthcare experts

The route to digital transformation

As part of our DIGITAL.DIALOG 2020 event we invited representatives from the areas of healthcare, IT, politics and research to a digital healthcare event to talk about the progress of the digital transformation in German hospitals.

The digital hospital is still a distant goal for many German hospitals. According to a McKinsey study, there was not a single hospital in Germany working with fully electronic patient records in 2019.1 Only 3 percent of German hospitals have e-health applications for remote homecare/monitoring, putting Germany a long way behind other European countries such as the Netherlands (35 percent) and Croatia (18 percent). And a poll of participants during the event revealed that the majority view the digitalization of Germany’s hospitals negatively. But why is that? According to a recent study by the German Hospital Institute (DKI) and BDO, 55 percent of Germany’s larger healthcare facilities have doubts about the economic benefit of digitalization.2

Result of a survey addressed to the event participants of the DIGITAL.DIALOG on June 18, 2020 " How do you assess the digitization of German hospitals?"

What are the benefits of digitalization?

In addition to widespread lack of receptiveness of hospital staff to digitalization, what other hurdles are there? A survey of participants at the DIGITAL.DIALOG event revealed that funding is the main problem.

Fabian Pritzel, CTO of the Paracelsus Kliniken hospital group, believes the long-term benefits of digitalization lie primarily in the use of structured data from anamnesis through to diagnosis, and in the automation of routine tasks, of which between 40 and 60 percent do not add value. This is the only way to achieve the goal of successfully treating patients faster and more efficiently. 

How do church-operated healthcare facilities deal with the issue of funding digitalization?

The inability of many hospitals to fund investment is the main issue when it comes to digital transformation. Non-captive funding partners such as CHG-MERIDIAN can provide bespoke finance strategies to help hospitals cope with the high levels of investment required. However, funding and the related question of how it can be achieved by hospitals with very tight budgets is just one of the many challenges presented by the digital transformation.

At the Cologne-based St. Marien hospital group, digitalization is a boardroom issue and is therefore given the necessary attention, according to Dr. Pascal Grüttner, head of IT. However, the lack of funding is also evident here. In addition to ‘traditional’ IT spending on technical infrastructure and software licenses, the organization is investing in initiatives such as patient programs. It funds more cost-intensive, individual solutions through a consortium that it has formed with other hospitals.

What other hurdles are there, besides funding?

In addition to the challenges of affordability and the associated hurdles of time, IT expertise and, specifically in Germany, the important matter of data protection and legal certainty, there is however another factor that should not be underestimated: people.

Result of a survey to the event participants of the DIGITAL.DIALOG on June 18, 2020 "Describe in one word the main problem from your perspective in the digitization of hospitals."

Fabian Pritzel, CTO of the Paracelsus Kliniken hospital group, explains the importance of time, IT expertise, and legal certainty i.e. consistency between the laws of the various federal states.

How can the digital hospital become a reality?

Digitalization is an important element, not just in German hospitals but in society as a whole. After all, employees will operate the new IT equipment and patients will benefit from the processes. The progress of digital transformation in German society is monitored by the D21 digital index, a survey that is published each year.

According to Professor Volker Nürnberg, partner at BDO Germany, the digital transformation requires a cultural change. In order to drive the digital transformation forward and make it easier for hospital staff to carry out their work, solutions need to be created that can bring all systems and processes together. A digitalization strategy can only be successful if the hospital staff, hospital information systems, software programs etc. all work together.

Are Germans developing greater digital understanding?

According to Sandy Jahn consultant for education and digital competences at the Initiative D21, the digital understanding of people in Germany has improved, especially in recent years. Society as a whole and the healthcare sector are increasingly receptive to digital processes in healthcare, such as online consultations.

All participants at the DIGITAL DIALOG agreed that the digital transformation in hospitals goes hand in hand with a cultural change that can only be successful if all parties involved cooperate on an equal footing. In addition to the challenges of funding, it is this cultural change that determines how quickly digitalization progresses. Cultural change and the digital transformation can only succeed if patients and healthcare professionals are convinced that they will benefit from technological progress. The focus must always be on people. Strengthening the digital skills of everyone involved in this change process is key to delivering the digital transformation in German hospitals and will enable us to move – together – step by step into the digital future!                          

1Digitalisierung in deutschen Krankenhäusern (Digitalization in German hospitals), McKinsey & Company, 2019.

2Das Digitale Krankenhaus (The digital hospital), German Hospital Institute (DKI) and BDO, 2019.

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Frank Schöneberg

Vice President Public Sector & Healthcare Sales