Opportunities offered by virtual health systems often untapped

The Health Research Institute (HRI) of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has published the study "Global Top Health Industry Ies". In the report, PwC describes eight trends that are transforming global healthcare: digital applications and artificial intelligence, virtual health systems, improved access to care and more pleasant experiences for patients, easier participation in health studies through apps and telemedicine, technological solutions to increase capacity and reduce costs, increased use of health apps and devices, the threat of cybercrime, and the increasing consideration of social determinants of health.

In addition, the study offers workable strategies for decision-makers and other industry players. For the German healthcare system, the following four trends are particularly noteworthy:

15 to 20 percent increase in efficiency through digital solution

Digital solutions will shape global healthcare much more in the future than they do today, especially in the automation of processes and in administration. Companies and other organizations can increase their efficiency with smart technologies by an estimated 15 to 20 percent by 2021 if they use digital applications for business process optimization or medical product development, among other things. Digitization is also becoming more significant in the development and implementation of therapies, patient insurance and clinical documentation. Precision medicine, which draws on a broad base of medical data to reveal correlations between physical characteristics and disease development, can save enormous amounts of time and money in the future, for example.

However, it will be a long time before artificial intelligence (AI) plays a major role in the German healthcare system. "Such applications are based on very large amounts of data, and these currently have to be built up," says Michael Burkhart, partner and head of the healthcare industry at PwC. But the potential of such applications is huge, the expert said. For example, AI could be used to detect serious illnesses early and reduce health and follow-up costs in Europe by many billions of euros.

Health apps are still too poorly integrated

Consumers are already using many health apps and other technical aids and are thus increasingly taking care of their health and preventive care themselves. Often however the integration of such offers into the existing health system is missing. The study identifies great potential for this area in particular, as virtual health systems can help improve treatment outcomes, make more efficient use of budgets for medical care and simplify access to healthcare systems, especially for residents of regions far from larger cities.

German hospitals must prove protection against cybercriminals

300.000 affected computers in 150 countries, was the alarming finding in 2017, when the malware "WannaCry" exploited a security hole in Windows computers. The more frequently Internet-connected medical devices and networks are used in healthcare, the higher the risk that they will become the target of cyberattacks, ransomware and malware. The focus is primarily on sensitive patient data.

Hospitals, along with the power supply, telecommunications, banks and insurance companies, are among the critical infrastructures, i.e., facilities that are particularly important for the state. Many hospitals in Germany must prepare for the increasing threats posed by malware and prove in audits by the end of June 2019 that they have complied with the "Amendment Ordinance on the Designation of Critical Infrastructures under the BSI Act" (BSI Criticality Ordinance of 30. June 2017) have implemented. Audits are repeated every two years.

Chronic diseases burden patients and healthcare systems

Chronic diseases are a major burden for patients and healthcare systems alike. Statutory health insurers around the world in particular are under high cost prere due to rising treatment costs for chronic diseases. Legislators, insurers and providers are therefore increasingly focusing on prevention and trying to encourage the population to take preventive measures.

Structural changes are needed in the German healthcare system to reduce rising costs and provide better incentives, says PwC healthcare expert Michael Burkhart. Hospital financing borne solely by the health insurance funds instead of the current dual system, for example, would set the stage for important decisions and investments in the healthcare system. The expert also believes that hospital funding per inhabitant within a certain radius makes sense. "This would provide an incentive for each clinic to be the best in its jurisdiction," says Michael Burkhart.

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