Digital health – How digitalization impacts the healthcare industry

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Die Digitalisierung macht auch vor der Gesundheitsbranche nicht Halt.

The trend towards digitalization is affecting all areas of life more and more. New technologies subsumed under the moniker digital health are now also moving into the healthcare industry. But what does that mean?

The healthcare system is in a deep crisis. This is mainly due to the aging society and the increasing number of chronically ill people. More ill patients of course also mean continually increasing costs. This is where digitalization could help.

First steps in the direction of digital health

Almost everyone will know so-called health apps and fitness trackers, which record and analyze body data. This trend is very popular now: almost half of all smartphone users installed such apps to improve their general state of health.  Other innovations that have already been introduced are digital services like online scheduling of doctor's appointments or digital reminders for screenings. What else will there be in the future? Electronic patient files or online consultation hours, by way of example. One can also imagine digitally supported medical care of people in rural areas who have a hard time getting to their nearest physician.

And what good does all this do?

The digitalization of the healthcare industry is supposed to accomplish one thing more than anything else: faster and better communication and thus increased efficiency and lower costs. Electronic patient files, for instance, permit improved information exchange between general practitioners and specialists. Online appointment scheduling ensures simplified communication between doctor and patient.

Easier said than done

In theory, all this is possible. However, in practice, the complexity of our healthcare systems creates problems. The division of the German system into statutory and private health insurance is just one example of a factor that makes the comprehensive digital networking of health insurance providers, doctors, and patients more difficult. Data protection puts another wrinkle in this fabric.

So far, patients in particular are sceptical as to whether their digitally stored data can even be secure. A survey showed that the majority of Germans would like to be able to decide themselves which doctor has access to their electronic patient file.  We are still waiting on the last word in the matter.

Hit or miss?

Even if there are a few challenges: in general, patients are very receptive to the topic of digital health and would take advantage of such offers.1 However, digitalization in the industry is moving at a snail’s pace. In the future, products have to be developed which account for the complexity of the healthcare system and the data protection requirements of patients. If this can be made to work, then digital healthcare has great potential.

1 bitkom.org

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