Opinion: Digital maturity assessments – Lifting Germany onto the world stage

The University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) is considered to be Europe’s first fully digitised hospital. By introducing a closed-loop medication process, UKE reduced the deviation rate in medication administration from 21.5% to 0.7%[1]. Cambridge University Hospital reported a similar story: automatic warning systems prevented 850 cases of severe allergic side effects per year. Sixteen percent of drug prescriptions have been adjusted as a result.

In both cases, the hospitals were guided by the roadmap of the HIMSS EMRAM digital maturity model. HIMSS, the owner of Healthcare IT News, have evaluated more than 550 hospitals in Germany as well as 65,000 health facilities worldwide. These institutions now use a common understanding of digital maturity to share best practice on digital processes, user involvement and patient care. Germany is potentially in an advantageous position to benefit from their learnings and to apply some of the strategies and concepts from large-scale projects in Europe, the UK, Turkey, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, or the USA.

In my view, the first thing to consider is the scope of the assessment itself. It must live up to the highest scientific requirements, but at the same time provide a practical, balanced approach to the application in hospitals. In other words, the maturity model must not only serve the ambitions of the “digital leaders” but should also allow for pragmatic and result-oriented use in a less digitised, heterogeneous hospital landscape. This includes providing a roadmap that enables hospitals to identify fields of action that raise their digital maturity and that is in line with global best practices.

The assessment and evaluation of hospitals and other healthcare facilities should look further beyond the technical availability of systems to help understand the specific improvements for the healthcare workforce, the process of efficiency and the quality of care. This will lead to true transformation – and reformation – of the sector and to new opportunities for the country.  

Innovation can drive Europe’s recovery

Germany’s digital maturity project goes hand in hand with the country opening its national health system to innovations from near and far. Four billion euros are being invested over the next three years into the digitisation of hospitals by the federal government alone. International standards are being adopted to support interoperability. A new “Fast Track” approval process allows startups to easier comply with the evidence requirements for their products. Moreover, in a first-of-its-kind move, the statutory German health insurances will reimburse digital health apps for their 72,000,000 insured members. 

Historically, Germany has been slow in digitising healthcare. Competing interests of stakeholders, privacy concerns and the decentralised structures of the system were seen as barriers that had to be overcome first. However, with the federal government launching the country’s first digital health strategy literally weeks before the strike of a pandemic, the nation was able to make enormous progress towards adopting, and even embracing digital health.

The insight into the digital maturity of its hospitals can now lead even more progress if followed by an expanded digital transformation that goes beyond the inpatient sector and beyond national borders. This will close the technology gap to the digital leaders in Denmark, Netherlands, Estonia, or Finland. With the continent’s largest economy taking a more productive and proactive role in shaping the future of health, Europe as a whole can increase its efforts to overcome the burden of a pandemic that has changed the minds and lives of so many.

Armin Scheuer is the vice president of international business development at HIMSS.

[1] Baehr M, van der Linde A, King R, Melzer S, Langebrake C, Groth Tonberge C, Hug MJ. Coupling of electronic regulation and patient-oriented Logistics – Significant improvement in drug therapy safety. KHP 35:110-117 (2014). “Devation Rate” refers to the deviation from specific quality criteria in medication administration, such as single dose, daily dose, dosage form, moisture protection, shelf life.