Digitization in hospitals: when the time comes, the fax arrives

Status: 22.04.2022 14:20

The hospitalization rate is one of the most important corona indicators. But even in the third year of the pandemic, data from hospitals is slowly and painfully pouring into RKI. Where is the problem?

By Christian Feld, ARD Capital Studio Berlin

The process takes ten minutes each time. Ten minutes for each patient who tests positive for the first time at Sars-CoV-2 at Matthias Hospital in Rheine. The medical staff must enter the data in a form in the hospital software. An encrypted email is then generated, which is then sent to the healthcare department.

“It’s really annoying,” says Jana Schroeder. The chief physician and virologist of the Matthias-Spital Foundation can understand very well the displeasure of his colleagues in the hospital.

This is just one example: in other hospitals, faxes are still written and sent to the health department. A journey that takes time. It can sometimes take weeks for information to finally reach the Robert Koch Institute.

This highlights problems and delays in digitalisation in the health sector. Even in the third year of the pandemic, the data flows slowly and clumsily. This has consequences, for example for the reliable determination of one of the most important indicators of German crown policy: the so-called hospitalization rate is intended to show how many coronary patients per 100,000 inhabitants were hospitalized within one week. This can provide insight into how heavily the healthcare system is burdened. Ideally, faxes would sit idle for a long time, at least for that.

Without real-time data in the fall?

But what is the reality? How many hospitals use a direct and fully electronic reporting path to RKI? This is what you wanted to know from the federal government Anke Domscheit-Berg, spokesman for digital politics of the Left Party in the Bundestag. The answer dem ARD Capital Studio “If the digitization of hospitalization reports continues at this pace and obviously without any responsibility, we will have to face the third autumn wave without real-time data,” says the parliamentarian.

A first step is underway. According to the federal government, the ability for hospitals to enter hospitalization for SARS-CoV-2 directly into DEMIS, Germany’s electronic reporting and information system for infection protection, was “released” on March 16. This means that hospitals no longer have to send faxes, but can use an electronic reporting channel offered by RKI.

From the point of view of the German Hospital Society (DKG), however, this changes nothing of significance. At the request of ARD Capital Studios says, “Even with the new system, the data will initially be recorded and entered manually by the hospital.”

Online form from 2023

But how quickly will this first step be implemented across the board? The federal government writes: The functionality of the corresponding application had been tested “in the last few days in pilot tests by three hospitals initially”. “The other hospitals subject to registration should also join in the coming weeks.” Mandatory use of the online form is not expected until January 1, 2023. The German Hospital Society wants to promote this approach and assumes that clinics will implement it very quickly.

Leftist politician Domscheit-Berg is much more skeptical. He describes the government’s response as vague and does not believe this process will be quick. The politician has years of hands-on experience with large IT projects in previous professional pursuits.

The assessment that the broad link with DEMIS in terms of hospitalization rate could continue for many months is also confirmed by experts who have a deep practical knowledge of the subject. Furthermore: The conversion of a computer system and the subsequent training is a complex and expensive process. Therefore, according to another fear, hospitals might not even tackle implementation because they know the much bigger step is yet to come.

A complex project

Because the rescue of hospitals and health authorities is one thing. But it’s also about speed. In January, the federal government’s Corona Expert Council called for corresponding hospital data to be made available “daily”, in real time. However, the first conversion stage started is not enough for this. The information should flow automatically from the hospital information system to the RKI. A complex project, also because there are so many systems.

The federal government writes: With the “provision of an interface scheduled for the end of May 2022”, hospitalization reports could be “automated in the future”.

“You can’t express yourself in a more non-binding way,” says Domscheit-Berg. The current response from the Federal Ministry of Health falls short of previous predictions. He had hoped that the new government would give the issue a higher priority: “But nothing changes. Once again there are announcements and once again they are not being maintained.”

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