September 2019 – Medicine is becoming increasingly digitalized. The arrival of the era of big data is revolutionizing the healthcare sector, with innovation being driven by both startups and established providers. This revolution has generated much interest, including among patients themselves, as indicated by a recent study involving and online survey conducted by Hamburg Commercial Bank.
In mid-September, Hamburg was again the “Place2Be” for the smartest and boldest players in the German healthcare sector. The 15th annual Healthcare Sector Conference was held with Hamburg Commercial Bank as the event partner - an organization that has been intricately involved in the healthcare sector for more than two decades and is a leading provider of financing for German hospitals, nursing homes and medical technology and pharmaceutical firms to invest in their future.
One primary topic to be addressed at the Conference in Hamburg is the steady rise of e-healthcare offerings and their impact on markets, competition and the relationship between doctors and patients.
There are many vocal critics of digitalization in the healthcare industry, who point out that telemonitoring and wearables, i.e. wearable medical computers, are dehumanizing medicine, making it impersonal and technocratic. But when you actually ask patients what they think, like Hamburg Commercial Bank recently did, you get a different picture. The main takeaway from the online survey on the drivers behind patient autonomy, the obstacles involved and the experiences patients have had with it is: “There is a clearly articulated desire for greater patient autonomy,” as noted by Sandro von Korff, Head of Hamburg Commercial Bank’s Healthcare Sector activities. “It’s an intriguing topic of interest to patients of all ages.” Thomas Miller, Research Executive Director at Hamburg Commercial Bank, has drawn a further conclusion based on the survey results: “Patients are often more progressive regarding e-health and more open to changes than doctors are.” Max Miller, CEO and Chief Strategy Officer for the online pharmacy Doc Morris, is convinced that: “Patients are the driver behind digital advances being made in healthcare.”
Two hundred fifty patients completed the Bank’s 40-question online survey. This sample size is significant enough to yield statistically meaningful findings. Three different groups were surveyed on their opinions: customers of the health insurance company VBU who hold statutory health insurance, attendees of the Hamburg Healthcare Sector Conference and “advanced” wearable users of the Autonom Health app, whose heart rate is monitored around the clock.
More than four out of five participants said they desire more patient autonomy, and are willing to assume greater responsibility. And nearly one in four respondents said they believe that increased patient autonomy translates into better public healthcare. Fewer than half of respondents however were in favor of the healthcare system being more market-oriented. Only the group of advanced customers wanted to see more market-driven incentives in healthcare, as these customers are largely disappointed with the health management services provided by doctors and health insurers, and had the least confidence in doctors.
The other respondents also appear to have lost some of their former confidence in the omniscience of the men in white. In other words, doctors and hospitals will have to change and reinvent themselves, to some extent, to regain the confidence they have lost. An overwhelming majority of survey respondents expressed the opinion that the various departments for healthcare providing—outpatient, inpatient, nursing, rehab and physiotherapy—need to work together more effectively for the benefit of individual patients by sharing information and evaluating this shared information. E-health offerings could thus become key elements, for example, if health data is collected more systematically than it has been in the past, and is properly evaluated at an early stage.
“One of the main problems with the German healthcare system, which generates billions of euros in additional costs, is excessive focus on treating diseases and patients,” says von Korff. “Being customer-oriented means managing health, not just treating illnesses.” E-health offerings such as wearables enable a greater focus on prevention and its importance, which benefits everyone. According to the estimates of the research team headed by Thomas Miller, extending the lifespan of the entire population by one year through prevention could reduce the costs in the German health care system by about ten billion euros per year.
Average score by relevant group on a scale of 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 5 (“strongly agree”) [Quelle/Source: Hamburg Commercial Bank]
Likert score for experience had with patient autonomy (Quelle/Source: Hamburg Commercial Bank)
Large added value contribution
Twelve percent of the value added by the German economy is now spent in the healthcare sector— over one billion euros per day. According to the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs, the sector employs 7.6 million people, accounting for 17 percent of the national workforce or one out of six employees. What is more, the healthcare sector has been growing at a faster rate than the overall economy for years.
“Digitalization is accelerating change within the healthcare sector. Technical advancements have yielded previously unknown treatment methods and new economic opportunities,” observes Sandro von Korff, Head of Hamburg Commercial Bank’s Healthcare Sector activities. Specialization and networking are causing a shift in many roles and careers in this growth market.
Major need for investment
The healthcare sector has a brilliant future ahead, but needs to invest vast sums to realize this future. For example, the Hamburg Commercial Bank Research Team has calculated that the average hospital needs to invest around 20 million euros in e-health. The average projected digital investment required by physician and dental practices is roughly 250,000 euros.