Germany: Studies show lack of patient engagement in digital health adoption

Europe’s largest health system lags far behind in digital health adoption and more patient engagement is needed to make significant progress.
By Armin Scheuer
10:22 AM
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Digital transformation is not reaching the patients yet – this is the key result of an international comparative study published by German foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung towards the end of November.

In the study, Germany scores low and ranks 16th out of 17 countries surveyed worldwide regarding the digitization of their healthcare systems.

Estonia, Canada, Denmark, Israel and Spain are in the first ranks of the comparison.

The study finds that one of the major barriers to digital health adoption in Germany is the lack of a national coordination agency.

“Politicians have in the past delegated the responsibility for digital transformation to self-government in health care," says Thomas Kostera, study director and health expert of the foundation. "The protagonists have been blocking each other for a long time and it has not yet been possible to bring all those responsible behind a common goal."

Recently, health policy has strengthened its leadership role and some advancements, such as the introduction of telemedicine for remote treatment, have been made.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung recommends politicians engage citizens, doctors and other health professionals to encourage digital health adoption. Users, such as patients and physicians, should be actively involved in developing sub-strategies and digital applications and processes, to ensure benefits become visible at an early stage.

Study unveils great uncertainty about opportunities and risks of digital health care

The Bertelsmann recommendation is underlined by the results of a representative survey by Nuance Communications among more than 2,000 people in Germany. This survey shows, that there is great uncertainty regarding risks and opportunities of digital health among citizens; only 26 percent of respondents feel sufficiently informed.

A total of 77 percent of respondents said that they did not have enough digital literacy in the health sector or were unable to assess whether there was any need to catch up.

"In Germany, there was no campaign that has extensively informed about the use of digital technologies in health care; the discussion remains in industry and expert circles. The good news is, that the population shows a high willingness to deal with digitalisation – which is essential to reach the government’s target of electronic health records for everyone by 2021," says Martin Eberhart, general manager of Nuance Healthcare for the  DACH region.

More than 70 percent of citizens are willing to actively seek a higher digital literacy for their health care, as they expect much better chances of recovery from a digital healthcare system and more time for doctor-patient communication. They demand to be actively informed on digital health by their doctors, health insurance or through reliable education services.

Jörg Studzinski, director research and advisory services at HIMSS Analytics Europe, demands a broad discussion as well as education and awareness campaigns.

“Patients elsewhere have noticeably more opportunities to actively and informedly look after their own health care through digital technologies. Therefore politics, associations, health care institutions, the medical profession and technology providers must work together to increase transparency, understanding and speed.

"The fact that many citizens do not feel sufficiently informed reflects our experience in hospitals. Even in health care facilities, there is still no comprehensive understanding of the opportunities and risks of digital health," he said.

With the commissioning of the telematics infrastructure, an important step has been taken towards a forward-looking healthcare system. Around 225,000 doctors, dentists, hospitals, psychotherapists and other health care professionals will be securely networked in the future.

Armin Scheuer is a digital health expert and consultant, and a former HIMSS Vice President.