No bail-out needed for German health IT industry
Demand for health IT in Germany is stable, and the current financial and economic crisis is not expected to have a major impact. These were the conclusions drawn during a media briefing of the VHitG - the German Association of the Healthcare IT Industry - held in Berlin on Feb. 2.
The crisis may even provide an opportunity for "greater leaps forward" - for example for the introduction of the long-awaited Gesundheitskarte, initially planned for Jan. 1, 2006, but yet to make it beyond the testing phase.
"The Gesundheitskarte is technically mature and the industry has made enormous investments in order to proceed with a national health card. However, organizational and political management is delaying implementation," said medatiXX CEO Jens Naumann, currently holding the seat of VHitG. "Perhaps in times of crisis we will see acceptance of this technology increase," he added.
According to Bernhard Calmer, head of IT Sales Germany for SIEMENS Medical Solutions and board member of the VHitG, there are three factors which will drive IT adoption: process optimization, interoperability and medical records solutions.
The anticipated slowdown in hospital mergers and the need to reduce costs could increase the demand for IT, Calmer said, noting that "the fact that European healthcare is still organized on a national level could be beneficial for the German health IT industry," as it is hoped that the economic slowdown in Germany will have less of an impact than in other parts of the world.
A dash of Europe, but not too much
National responsibility for healthcare in Europe is also one of the reasons why the VHitG does not feel any urgency to internationalize its scope. "Yes, we are adding a European element to our activities, for example by providing English interpreting services at this year's conhIT," said Andreas Kassner, managing director of VHitG. conhIT is the German health-IT conference and exhibition (Berlin, 21-23 April, 2009).
"But at the end of the day, we must tell our customers and conference delegates how to solve their very specific problems - and these problems cannot be solved with a European solution. They require a very local, hands-on answer to regional specifics," Calmer added.
When asked about his views on a European health IT show, Calmer said that conhIT was considering "loose coorperations" with other health IT shows. "However, we will not try to force the European element on our customers," he said.
The VHitG also presented the trends from an IT survey carried out among 2,093 German hospitals. Matthias Meierhofer, CIO of the HIS-provider Meierhofer AG and member of the VHitG board, summarized the results:
- Larger hospitals are more likely to implement health IT applications, with a preference for specialized solutions that support medical care rather than administrative systems.
- Health IT is especially appreciated when it improves workflows, optimizes usability and streamlines communications with stakeholders outside the hospital. Again, larger hospitals are more likely to value these benefits.
- Integration, interoperability and standardisation are key success factors and the VHitG therefore aims to develop clear recommendations for supporting these factors.
"There is greater potential for systems that improve data accessibility, knowledge management and transparacy, as well as technology that supports management decisions," said Meierhofer. "IT has the potential to be worth a lot more than it is today."