Digitization in healthcare: Getting a second opinion on the Internet
“My colleagues did a great job!” A doctor peers at his computer, while a patient who recently had an operation sits on the other side of his desk. He is praising the medical team at the hospital. Thanks to electronic patient records, registered doctors are quickly informed of successful operations. Digitization offers many additional advantages for healthcare in particular.
According to the Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists (ABDA), more Germans die from unintended drug interactions than from traffic accidents. The reason: doctors are often not informed of medication prescribed by a colleague for a different condition. As a result, polymedication can result in dangerous drug interactions if medication is not compatible. This frequently affects older people who are being treated by several different doctors at the same time.
Legally required to benefit from digitization
This is one good reason to promote the electronic transmission of data using an electronic health card or patient records. At least, that’s what politicians think. They therefore passed the E-Health Act in 2016. “The law on secure digital communication and applications in healthcare” contains a plan for establishing digital infrastructure in accordance with the highest security standards and introducing useful applications on the electronic health card by 2018. “Secure digital infrastructure improves healthcare and empowers patients – those are real benefits for policyholders,” says Federal Minister of Health Hermann Gröhe. As of mid-2018, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, hospitals, and patients are to be fully covered by the telematics infrastructure. Electronic patient records will ensure that patients as well as doctors are better informed of diagnoses and treatments. Furthermore, patients can improve the databank themselves using fitness trackers or wearables and transmitting the information from these devices to their doctor on a regular basis. Electronic patient records have already been established in other countries for several years.
Doctors have long since entered the digital age – some rather involuntarily. This is because patients now arrive at their doctor’s well-prepared. Half of them have already googled their symptoms to determine a diagnosis and confront the doctor with the results of their search. According to a survey conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation, 46 percent of doctors found that these patient pre-diagnoses only make their work more difficult. Hospital doctors have patients who spend the entire day reviewing what was discussed during rounds on their laptops – and often come up with a second opinion based on information found on the Internet. Opinions on diagnoses and doctors are now shared online on rating portals. Patients looking for doctors use evaluations found in portals to decide whether or not to visit a certain doctor. Statista, a statistics portal, found that 60 percent of Germans now select a doctor online.
Furthermore, medical personnel also use the Internet to find information. According to statista, 63.9 percent of all physicians use the Internet or other online services to find answers to medical problems. They simply don’t have the time to consult professional journals based on research and scientific studies.
Digital error sources
But is this online information really reliable? For example, patients and doctors look for information on Wikipedia. Several studies found that not all of the articles regarding medical topics found on Wikipedia are free of errors. In addition, not only physicians or pharmacists are asked to electronically record diagnoses and information on medication. Fitness trackers are one example: a comparison of products revealed that devices from difference manufacturers yield significantly different results on steps taken on the same route. If the same discrepancies occur when measuring pulse rate or body temperature, this can have fatal consequences.
Furthermore, health insurance companies, for example, are interested in using the results of fitness trackers. From a legal point of view, the principle of solidarity does not (yet) permit this: but insurance companies could use this data to verify who lives a healthier life and reward these people accordingly – or justify higher rates for unhealthier lifestyles. If decisions like these are made based on unreliable data, erroneous calculations may be the result. And the problem of data security is omnipresent: after all, patient data is an attractive target for criminals.
Nevertheless, collecting medical data has a great deal of advantages and it could save lives: in an emergency, doctors could have immediate access to information on allergies or pre-existing conditions. They could read a patient’s medication plan and react accordingly. Elderly people will no longer need to head out to their physician or pharmacy if they take advantage of an online video consultation, a service that will be available as of July 1, 2017. The E-Health Act requires that this service be a part of the regular healthcare program from that point on. Diagnoses can be electronically transmitted to the pharmacy, which then sends the medication straight to a patient’s home.
Furthermore, the digitization of healthcare offers many other benefits. Key features include monitoring treatment, using software to make diagnoses, or using chatbots, for example when a patient would like to receive information on medication via a telephone hotline. Digitization can help us to do things a whole lot better. Someday, it may even have the same status as penicillin or x-rays. But it can also have risks and side effects.
Author: Editorial Staff Future. Customer.
Image: adam121 – Fotolia/Adobe Stock