Digital Healthcare: not yet

In Germany already 27% of enterprises generate more than 60% of their revenue through digital means and channels. Following a monitoring report from the German Ministry for economy, healthcare and pharmaceutical industry are at the bottom of the digitalization table. The number of causes for reluctance may be many but the necessity to drive digitalization in the healthcare is high. There are only isolated examples where patient-care has gained considerably through digitally integrated and interlinked care.

Digitalization can be defined as “moving from individual, paper-based procedures to structured, designed, and repeatable processes supported by digital technology.” The core issue being so reluctant to embrace digitalization is that in many healthcare markets the demand-side or any other market-shaping power is missing. In addition, existing „market-powers” cannot solve the problem since paternalistic traditions stand against it. Physicians and other healthcare professions resist to democratize content, apply consistent and repeatable processes, and share knowledge by digital means. More thresholds exist to introduce new ways to serve patients, leveraging the power of digitalization. Digital in this context could mean, that everyone has access to the identical dataset, telehealth is a regular option, and patients own their health-record, grant access rights, and they add their own data. This widely is circumvented, and far from reality. Pharmaceutical companies peacefully rest on their profits, and a buzzword like “patient-centricity” is little more than a lip-service. On the other hand, this industry sits on unique and huge resources of disease-knowledge which could well be leveraged to better serve individual patients.

Digitalization means democracy and individualization

„Cave linguam“ was a set phrase when department heads were on their ward-round in earlier days. It meant to stop young colleagues to share too many details aloud with patients. Contrasting these days, today there are websites to translate medical terminology into patient-language, working groups to help patients better understand package-leaflets, and above all there is “Dr. Google”. The „patient“ is far from being an amorphous blob any longer. Patients of today are individuals seeking valid information „what they suffer from”, “what this does to them”, and “what they can do against it”. In the future patients must be better enabled to ask valid questions and understand the answers. This could allow them to become the future demand-side of the healthcare market.
Supporting millions of individual patients can only be achieved leveraging digital technology. There are some isolated technical platforms available to provide such digital assistance to patients, allowing them to own, share, and enrich their individual health records. Not only the NHS in UK is dedicated establishing a paperless healthcare system in support of patients, leveraging the huge and disruptive power of digital informatics. The goal of digital healthcare is to grant active participation to patients, enable them to ask the right questions, allow access to appropriate and certified information about their own health conditions, and support patients in adding their own data to their individual health record.
The central question is which player will commit to this goal when?
Many players presumably wait for political interventions to become the driving force towards digitalization. Especially the pharmaceutical industry will probably carry forward their habits of the past: run the business as usual, wait, complain, and in case unavoidable, react.

Act before another Uber takes it all

It could well be a digital start-up turning healthcare upside-down. Disease prevention, patient care, and “radical patient-orientation”, could happen all of a sudden and demote pharma to merely be an exchangeable component supplier. In such a scenario, healthcare funds and insurance systems will remain being payers only. “Who does not change, will be changed.” will prove to be the rule. Do not forget that companies like Verily, the healthcare-arm of Google, having access to the world’s best talent, and Apple, owning abundant financial resources, are preparing their “entry-vouchers” into the healthcare-sphere.

Digital disruption has only started and the momentum is high. It is worthwhile to remember that PayPal has not been founded by the banking industry, and AirBnB is not owned by a hotel chain. The “Ubers” of the world today are delighted being ennobled by the biggest car manufacturers acting as their major shareholders.

Digitalization of healthcare will put patients into the situation to better manage their own conditions. Healthcare not only resembles the largest market in almost all economies and countries. Healthcare deserves, needs, and will receive a mighty push towards digitalization. The currently open “windows of opportunity” for corresponding industries are numerous.

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The starting point - A giant investment into digitalization

9. Feb 2016
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