Dig­i­ti­za­tion: An oppor­tu­ni­ty for the health­care industry 

Smart and dig­i­tal – that’s how our every­day lives can be described in many respects today. In health­care, too, dig­i­ti­za­tion is to be dri­ven for­ward to help both doc­tors and patients oper­ate more effi­cient­ly and flex­i­bly. But when it comes to dig­i­tal stan­dards, the gap is wide. While some prac­tices and clin­ics are already using telemed­i­cine ser­vices such as online book­ing sys­tems, which, for exam­ple, auto­mat­i­cal­ly send patients a reminder for the booked appoint­ment by text mes­sage or e‑mail, for oth­ers the top­ic of dig­i­ti­za­tion has not yet arrived. The fax machine and the tele­phone remain the cor­ner­stones in some facil­i­ties. Yet the many smart devel­op­ments hold great oppor­tu­ni­ties for the health­care industry. 

Dig­i­ti­za­tion by law: TSVG and DVG


Politi­cians in this coun­try take a sim­i­lar view and have already oblig­ed health insur­ers to pro­vide their insureds with an elec­tron­ic patient file from Jan­u­ary 1, 2021, with the Appoint­ment Ser­vice and Care Act (TSVG), which was passed by the Bun­destag on March 14, 2019. In addi­tion, insureds who so desire will also be able to access their elec­tron­ic patient file using their smart­phone or tablet in the future. Fur­ther­more, the “Act for Bet­ter Care through Dig­i­ti­za­tion and Inno­va­tion” (Dig­i­tal Care Act — DVG), which was passed on Novem­ber 7, 2019, enables fur­ther e‑health offer­ings such as e‑prescription, health app pre­scrip­tions and online con­sul­ta­tions. In the case of treat­ments, it should also be pos­si­ble to access a secure health­care data network.

Digitalization in the healthcare industry: create therapy plans quickly and easily via the Pixformance online platform
Digitalization in the healthcare industry: create therapy plans quickly and easily via the Pixformance online platform

The plan is for patients to be able to use the dig­i­tal ser­vices across the board as soon as pos­si­ble. Phar­ma­cies (by the end of Sep­tem­ber 2020) and hos­pi­tals (by Jan­u­ary 1, 2021) are there­fore required to con­nect to the telem­at­ics infra­struc­ture (TI). Mid­wives and phys­io­ther­a­pists, as well as nurs­ing and reha­bil­i­ta­tion facil­i­ties, can vol­un­tar­i­ly con­nect to the TI free of charge. Physi­cians who still do not want to con­nect will have to accept an increased fee deduc­tion from March 1, 2020.

Digital offerings for patients and therapists. Overview of therapy progress on a tablet.

Sup­port and relief


The vast major­i­ty of peo­ple already make use of dig­i­tal gad­gets in many areas of their lives. So it’s no sur­prise that dig­i­ti­za­tion also holds some oppor­tu­ni­ties for the health­care indus­try. The laws that have been passed can sim­pli­fy many process­es and make the health­care sys­tem even more effi­cient. Ulti­mate­ly, it is not only the patients who ben­e­fit from this but also the doc­tors, ther­a­pists, nurs­es, etc., who are sig­nif­i­cant­ly relieved and sup­port­ed in their every­day work by telemed­i­cine. Cer­tain­ly, there will be some more devel­op­ments to observe in the com­ing years.

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Health in Bochum sur­veyed for this pur­pose. The respon­dents saw pos­i­tive effects of dig­i­ti­za­tion pri­mar­i­ly in time sav­ings, stan­dard­iza­tion of ther­a­py process­es, inter­pro­fes­sion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and sim­pli­fied doc­u­men­ta­tion. Rhön-Klinikum AG, one of Ger­many’s largest health­care providers, also sees dig­i­ti­za­tion as the key to gen­er­at­ing greater effi­cien­cy in patient care as well as in inter­nal work­flows: “Dig­i­tal net­work­ing with intel­li­gent IT solu­tions and inno­v­a­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems opens up new avenues in healthcare.”

Dig­i­tal supervisors


In many ways, new approach­es to care are demon­strat­ing the high­est lev­els of evi­dence and effec­tive­ness. When staff resources are scarce, for exam­ple, dig­i­tal train­ing and ther­a­py devices can serve as super­vi­sors. In tel­ere­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, they take charge of mon­i­tor­ing exe­cu­tion and ensur­ing cor­rect adher­ence to move­ments and ther­a­py plans. If there is no phys­io­ther­a­pist near­by, for exam­ple, a dig­i­tal train­ing pro­gram is avail­able as a sub­sti­tute. Health econ­o­mist Prof. Dr Jür­gen Zerth does not see dig­i­ti­za­tion as prod­uct inno­va­tion, but rather as an orga­ni­za­tion­al inno­va­tion: “For it to suc­ceed in the health­care sys­tem and gen­er­ate ben­e­fits, it must become part of a func­tion­ing con­tin­uüm of care. The most sophis­ti­cat­ed dig­i­tal solu­tion is of lit­tle help if the ana­logue envi­ron­ment of patients, ther­a­pists, facil­i­ties and pay­ers does not keep pace.”

Digital support and relief for therapists: Patients of a physiotherapy practice train digitally with Pixformance

How­ev­er, the new direc­tions can be tak­en not only in areas such as doc­u­men­ta­tion, billing and sched­ul­ing. That’s because dig­i­ti­za­tion is also on the rise in med­ical tech­nol­o­gy. From walk­ing sticks with inte­grat­ed GPS sen­sors and emer­gency call func­tions to robot-assist­ed ther­a­py units and vir­tu­al real­i­ty appli­ca­tions, a wide vari­ety of help­ful inno­va­tions can be found on the mar­ket. Peo­ple with chron­ic ill­ness­es can also ben­e­fit from dig­i­ti­za­tion. For peo­ple with dia­betes, for exam­ple, it is already pos­si­ble to keep an all-around eye on and man­age their con­di­tion via an app.

Therapist and patient use the fully connected Pixformance app after training at the digital Pixformance station

Numer­ous future-proof possibilities


Reha­bil­i­ta­tion sci­en­tist Sophie Rabe also sees great added val­ue in dig­i­tal appli­ca­tions. In an inter­view with Rehacare​.de, she high­lights patient edu­ca­tion and patient self-man­age­ment as cen­tral ele­ments of reha­bil­i­ta­tion. This is where dig­i­ti­za­tion can come in and pro­vide sus­tain­able sup­port for desired behav­iour­al changes through clear objec­tives, inter­ac­tive learn­ing con­tent, feed­back func­tions and social rein­force­ments. Through telether­a­py, ther­a­py progress is imme­di­ate­ly appar­ent to both ther­a­pist and patient and can be mea­sur­ably tracked. In addi­tion, patients have a pos­i­tive ther­a­py expe­ri­ence and are moti­vat­ed to achieve their ther­a­py goals with fun and motivation.

Espe­cial­ly in the field of phys­io­ther­a­py and reha­bil­i­ta­tion, there is an increas­ing focus on dig­i­tal progress in equip­ment devel­op­ment. The new ther­a­py and train­ing devices have inter­faces to eval­u­ate and doc­u­ment train­ing data and make it quick­ly acces­si­ble. One exam­ple is the intel­li­gent Pix­for­mance Sta­tion, which uses pre­cise analy­ses to track patients’ move­ments and eval­u­ates them in a mat­ter of sec­onds so that cor­rec­tive instruc­tions and feed­back on the respec­tive exer­cise exe­cu­tion can be pro­vid­ed. This can sig­nif­i­cant­ly relieve ther­a­pists in their day-to-day work and care of patients.

Advan­tages and barriers

The many ben­e­fits of dig­i­ti­za­tion in health­care are quite vis­i­ble. How­ev­er, the biggest bar­ri­er to intro­duc­ing the var­i­ous dig­i­tal options is cer­tain­ly the cost fac­tor. Small­er phys­io­ther­a­py prac­tices and self-employed peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar some­times have prob­lems rais­ing the nec­es­sary funds, even though they could usu­al­ly use the dig­i­tal sup­port most urgent­ly to ben­e­fit from time advan­tages in the event of staff short­ages. In addi­tion, with the flood of many dif­fer­ent offer­ings on the mar­ket, review and selec­tion can prove chal­leng­ing for any facility.

Numerous digital opportunities in the healthcare industry: therapy offers via softwares and apps

A good overview of the var­i­ous options that e‑health has to offer, as well as how to inte­grate and finance the same, can be obtained at the many health and fit­ness trade shows. Many of the billing com­pa­nies, soft­ware com­pa­nies, devel­op­ers of apps, web-based appli­ca­tions with dig­i­tal offer­ings and dig­i­tal train­ing and ther­a­py equip­ment such as from Pix­for­mance present them­selves there. Being ful­ly informed about the var­i­ous offer­ings is impor­tant to find the most suit­able and prof­itable for one­self and one’s facil­i­ty to extract the great­est and most effec­tive benefit.

Adden­dum: In the last few weeks, a lot has hap­pened in terms of dig­i­ti­za­tion in health­care due to the ongo­ing coro­na cri­sis. We will pro­vide some inter­est­ing blog arti­cles around this top­ic here soon.

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