Digital healthcare: What is the status quo?

How digital is the healthcare industry in 2024? A recent study conducted by McKinsey explores the current state of affairs and compares Germany with the rest of the world.

Digital healthcare: Germany in an international comparison
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The advantages of a digital healthcare system are as clear as day

“Advancing digitalization is a key precondition for the successful evolution of our healthcare system,” is the message communicated on the website of the German Federal Ministry of Health. The idea is that digital technologies will simplify administrative processes, help detect illnesses early, facilitate the provision of individualized therapies, and strengthen health literacy in society, among other benefits.

Digital health apps are proving increasingly popular and, among other features, make it possible for patients to be treated via an app. AI-controlled apps installed on a smartphone speed up and simplify patient care, alleviating the strain being put on the healthcare industry due to the shortage of medical professionals.

The German government is accelerating the digital transformation in healthcare

However, Germany is still lagging way behind when it comes to efficiently processing health data and establishing a modern healthcare system characterized by holistic data-based medicine.

A recent study published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveals that Germany occupies the third-last place internationally in terms of the ability to access and link datasets in healthcare. The top of the leaderboard is dominated by Nordic countries.

In December 2023, the German Bundestag took steps to accelerate digitalization in the healthcare industry by passing the Digital Act (DigiG) and the Health Data Use Act (GDNG), which aims to improve the use of health data.

To simplify day-to-day medical practice and speed up digital processes, electronic prescriptions became mandatory in Germany on January 1, 2024. The electronic patient record (ePA) is set to follow in 2025 in order to improve data availability and optimize individualized treatment. With that, all patients will have access to the health data recorded for them and will be able to decide for themselves how it can be used and by whom.

McKinsey’s “E-Health Monitor 2023/24”: digitalization of the German healthcare system is progressing slowly

The strategy and management consulting firm McKinsey has been watching the digital transformation of healthcare in Germany since 2020 and publishes the status quo and future outlooks in its German-language E-Health Monitor. In the monitor, the sector’s digital progress is documented using around 30 indicators, for example the level of digitalization in doctor’s offices and hospitals and the acceptance of e-health tools for patients.

The most recent study reveals that about a third of doctors prescribed digital health apps a total of 235,000 times in 2023, which is double the amount prescribed in 2022. There is also a growing demand for digital health services among patients: there were more than 14 million downloads of health apps in 2023 compared to only about 12 million in 2022.

Another positive development is the expansion of the telematics infrastructure (TI), which is the technological basis for digital healthcare in Germany. Nearly 99 percent of all pharmacies and doctor’s offices are now connected to the platform. However, more than two thirds of the doctor’s offices connected to it say they encounter technical problems on a weekly or even daily basis – proof that Germany’s digital healthcare journey is still progressing slowly.

Electronic patient records (ePAs) are also not being activated quickly enough. Only 1 percent of patients with statutory health insurance have an activated ePA. There are plans to automate the process in 2025 by introducing an opt-out system, which should give the ePA its breakthrough.

According to the E-Health Monitor, telemonitoring in Germany could also benefit from the adoption of new laws aimed at promoting the digitalization of healthcare. Telemonitoring solutions make it possible to continuously track patients’ vital functions, creating a large dataset that facilitates quicker diagnosis and more efficient treatment options. They also take the pressure off doctor’s offices and patients because they reduce or even eliminate the need for in-person appointments.

Conclusion: only moderate progress for German healthcare digitalization in 2023/2024

The digital health market is booming – at least internationally. And that’s set to continue in the coming years. AI is giving digital health an enormous transformational boost and is expected to bring the healthcare industry a huge growth in sales in the future.

The recently adopted laws could finally give the German healthcare sector the impetus it needs to speed up its digital transformation. To keep up with other countries and strengthen its overwhelmed healthcare system over the coming years, Germany must keep treating digital healthcare as a top priority.

Digital health apps, AI-controlled medical tools, and telemonitoring solutions offer enormous potential and could be the key to mending the German healthcare system.