Despite a flourishing economy and well-organised health sector, Germany lags behind in the digitalisation of healthcare. It is about to change now with the support of the hih – health innovation hub established by the Federal Ministry of Health. An interview with Dr Henrik Matthies, managing director of the hih – by Artur Olesch.
Why did the Federal Ministry of Health decide to set up the health innovation hub?
The Federal Ministry of Health aims to transform the complex healthcare system towards a digital one. Already for 15 years, there are efforts to do that. Now the Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn is very eager to make that a success, realising, there is no way to keep the status quo. It’s about time to take a step forward, and Jens Spahn is not running away from making the right decisions to push things forward. We were established to be a sparring partner for the Ministry of Health and several other institutions that help to manage the health ecosystem. We are also in the role of a connector between different stakeholders.
On the one hand, we try to translate the digital health ecosystem, what the regulations are all about, and how to be adequately prepared to make the best use of them. We also bring this “digital sphere” to the doctors, pharmacists, and anyone who is engaged in this complex healthcare system. We can do this because we come from all different parts of the ecosystem. hih is a team of twelve people, including for example a GP who is still practising medicine. Having such authorities in our team, we want to make sure that whatever we wish to moonshot is at a certain degree possible to implement. We also have experts of interoperability, data formats, who help us navigate through data exchange issues. I’m personally coming from the digital health startup scene. Thus, a bunch of experienced experts from different parts of the market, which together can form this vision and translate regulatory into concrete action.
Due to a hih statement, “healthcare 2025 combines solidarity and empathy with the utmost in organisational and technological innovation.” What steps have been planned on the way to this future vision of healthcare in Germany?
We were quite lucky. A few weeks after our launch, the DVG regulations have been passed (DVG – Digitale Versorgung Gesetz, eng.: Digital Supply Law), an initiative to accelerate the digitalisation of the healthcare market. The DVG is crucial as it’s a brave step towards bringing healthcare system in 2019. According to the Digital Health Index 2019, published by Bertelsmann Foundation, Germany take the second to last place when it comes to the progress of the healthcare market digitalisation. That’s why there are considerable demand and necessity to get going. DVG makes it easier. If a digital health company has a product or service that is fulfilling a certain number of criteria, can apply for a fast-track. The fast-track means that as soon as you are allowed to participate, you are directly in the regular health market – for the first twelve months without scientifically proven studies. Any doctor can prescribe a digital service to any given patient, as long as they are in the public healthcare system. Within the first year, you have to generate data to prove your evidence. So you don’t even need a preliminary certification to apply for this fast-track. However, you have 12 months to deliver evidence. If you fail, you get kicked out of the market and are not allowed to enter it with the same product again. It’s a clear decision-making procedure that is happening within a few months. Before the new law was implemented, it was impossible to enter the german healthcare market with a new digital tool. Now the door has been opened.
“Hih-2025” suggests a time perspective of 2025. Why?
We want to look beyond. The most necessary step right now is to make sure that digitalisation works. And this is what mostly consumed us. But we also want to give a vision, which is especially crucial for the focused on the status quo German market. We don’t do it because we want to have digitalisation. We want to have a better healthcare system. To make this challenge, we need to look beyond and draw a vision: How can we protect our health in a few years? There are so many fantastic opportunities which are never discussed in Germany because we are only concentrating on data security or potential adverse effects. Nobody is talking about all the benefits that are coming with the digital revolution. This is what we want to stand for and develop in an upcoming couple of months.
What exactly can hih deliver what before wasn’t impossible to achieve? Do you believe that after years of stagnancy, the digitalisation will finally start?
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TXT: Artur Olesch
Foto: Matthias Kindler