“We need a holistic digitization strategy for the entire healthcare sector”

Olaf Dörge of Cerner is convinced that only visible and measurable added value will bring about change in the long term. But the financing of innovations and technical progress must also be secured on a long-term and sustainable basis.

Mr. Dörge, 2021 is all about the KHZG. What is your basic assessment of the resulting opportunities for the healthcare system?

Can the opportunities be rated anything other than high? I can’t remember a time in recent years when digitization has been advanced with such momentum as it is now with the KHZG. Yes, the criteria are challenging and their implementation will certainly be anything but easy. Overall, however, I believe that the opportunities outweigh the risks – especially because important issues such as the use of cloud solutions have been addressed.

In a recent interview, you noted that healthcare IT has so far primarily been the digital representation of the analog world. Doesn’t the tight schedule of the KHZG harbor the danger that processes will simply be digitized, perhaps even more badly than good, instead of being rethought?

In principle, of course, this danger exists, which is why we at Cerner are specifically taking preventive action here with our i.s.h.med Model System. Behind this is not only a template for extensive preconfiguration of our HIS, but above all a comprehensive process model. We therefore take a process-driven, rather than just a functional, look at digitization in the hospitals and use it to determine where added value and benefits for clinical staff can be generated or improved. In our view, successful change management can only be achieved on the basis of optimized processes. Change cannot be forced. But a visible and measurable added value is convincing and thus creates the basis for continuous change and optimization processes.

Conversely, does this mean that IT service providers have an important role to play within the framework of the KHZG?

That’s a question we can only answer for ourselves, and here I can tell you clearly that we want to be a long-term partner in the sense of a continuous innovation process. Focusing on short-term implementations is not sustainable from our point of view. We can look back on more than 40 years of experience in healthcare IT, from which our customers naturally benefit just as much as from our technological expertise. In addition, we specifically rely on an equally sustainable partner ecosystem, because we are convinced that digitization is always a joint project that benefits from broad-based expertise, interoperability, standards and open exchange. In sum, this enables us to support our users in many areas of the KHZG with coordinated overall solutions. Because the manufacturer and IT service provider as a partner, as we understand partnership, relieves the hospitals and thus also creates space for the process optimizations already mentioned, for example.

Not all hospitals are at the same level of digitization. Does the KHZG threaten to widen this gap?

Let me ask you the opposite question: Doesn’t the KHZG offer more of an opportunity to harmonize the level of digitization within the German hospital landscape? There are currently differences in the penetration of IT not only between different hospitals, but even between the individual departments of a hospital. This is precisely why I consider a comprehensive assessment to be essential as a starting point. Here, for example, it is important to clarify which eligible solutions can be used sensibly and in which areas there is the greatest need for investment and innovation. This is the only way to determine how the subsidies can achieve the greatest benefit within a company. And then – also with preconceived and process-optimized solutions – even houses that are currently still struggling with digitization deficits can catch up again.

Looking ahead to 2025: What goals can the KHZG realistically achieve by then, or what might a digital healthcare system look like in just under five years?

It is not enough to think only in terms of the KHZG, or even only in terms of hospitals. The current pandemic shows us that we need a holistic digitization strategy for the entire healthcare system. Other countries are already further along in this regard, and even have a name for it: Population Health Management. The question is then what solutions are needed to put the citizen, and no longer the patient, at the center. In other words, to really orchestrate all the services that a person needs in the course of his or her life efficiently and effectively. For this, but also for digitization in hospitals, truly sustainable financing of IT is of course essential. The KHZG can be a respectable start-up aid for this. But to really change the healthcare system as a whole, funding over a few years is not enough. For this, we need a financing system that enables hospitals to continuously innovate and to participate in technological progress over the long term. This is the only way that IT can support high-quality, yet cost-efficient treatment of patients. Or as Cerner puts it: “Health care is too important to stay the same.