1 year of Corona - Impact on digitalization in the healthcare sector
How did the global pandemic come about? What impact is Corona already having on digitization in healthcare? On January 27, 2020, the first SARS-CoV-2 infection was detected in Germany. A Bavarian businessman had contracted the virus and was classified as Patient 1 (1). From that point on, Covid-19 began to spread inexorably beyond the state. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the current infection rate throughout Germany is 2,667,225 (as of 3/22/2021; 2). A full year later, Corona is still part of everyday life as well as the health care system.
Corona warning app: digitalization of pandemic response
The Corona alert app has become an important tool in the fight against pandemics. It promises to take a big step toward advancing digitization in healthcare. The digital solution – designed to contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2 – has been available since last June (3). Essentially, the app is designed to make it possible to track chains of infection. Through Bluetooth technology and encrypted random codes, the application records the encounters of its users (4). Individuals who test positive for Covid-19 can share their result through the Corona Alert app. The following steps illustrate the procedure (5):
- A person gets tested for Covid-19 at a designated center connected to the Corona alert app.
- Provided prior consent is given, the test result is transmitted to the app.
- If the test result is positive, there is now the option to actively share this via the app.
- If the result is shared, all contacts receive a warning.
- The people in question can now decide whether to isolate themselves or take a Corona test themselves.
The current number of downloads is 26.2 million (as of 3/17/2021; 6). Digitization through Corona? Nevertheless, the app is subject to criticism. Politicians:inside criticize that the high level of data protection comes at the expense of efficiency (7). At the same time, the level of data protection is an important argument for using the app (7). The protection of personal data requires extreme sensitivity – especially when it comes to health data. Data security is one of the basic prerequisites for driving forward digitization in healthcare. It is the only way to ensure trust in new technologies. Covid-19 in particular makes it clear how much efficient, fast as well as secure solution approaches are needed in healthcare. For example, the digital transformation of medical consultations, prescription dispensing and the patient’s own medical records is experiencing an upswing during the pandemic (8). Corona is thus significantly accelerating the digitization of healthcare. However, the potential here has not yet been fully exploited. A study by the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media e.V. (Bitkom) makes this clear. While 20% of physicians use fax as a means of communication, only 5% of physicians use e-mail to communicate (8).
What is the status quo of digitization in healthcare?
Digital solutions already exist in many areas. Whether autonomous driving or smart home applications – some of these innovations are already part of everyday life. Digitization in the healthcare sector is also on the rise in order to ensure better care. For example, it is possible to facilitate workflows in hospitals through automation (9). Furthermore, digital health applications enable patients to support the individual implementation of treatment processes (9). However, this is not the status quo in all countries. There are also international differences in digitization in the healthcare sector.
The pandemic is not only fostering the growth of digitization, the development of new products is also on the rise. First and foremost, the RKI’s Corona warning app, a good example of digitization in the healthcare sector. As described at the beginning, the app helps track contacts to infected people. The more people who use the app, the greater the chance of keeping track of the incidence of infection. Tracking contacts is of utmost necessity in times of pandemic. Symptoms of infection are not always apparent. Thus, it can quickly happen that people who are infected but not infectious unknowingly infect their peers (13). The app Luca has recognized this problem and is used where people meet. By checking in and out, using a QR code, guests of private meetings or restaurant visits can be listed. In the process, the personal data of the users is encrypted. In the event of an infection, all encrypted check-ins can be forwarded to the health authority. The decoding is done by the authority. However, this is only possible if permission has been granted in advance. Once the data has been decoded, all affected contacts can be notified (14). A very helpful product of digitization by Corona, which guarantees fast handling and greatly simplifies the tracking of contacts.
Despite new products and the advance of digitization in healthcare, more solutions are needed to combat Covid-19. As part of the German government’s #WirVsVirus hackathon, a total of 1,500 solutions emerged (15). The approaches of the participating projects directly target the challenges of the pandemic. For example, U:DO, in cooperation with the German Federal Employment Agency, digitized the application process for short-time allowance. In addition to step-by-step instructions, those affected can view all the necessary information via the platform. Corona also shows how urgently processes in health offices need to be digitized. One of the companies tackling this task is quarano. It offers a digital solution through an open source web application. In this way, the authorities are relieved and receive support in the administration and documentation of Covid-19 cases. Corona creates new ways of digitalization in healthcare. The company match4healthcare connects actors in the healthcare system. Through the platform, institutions can seek help or people can offer their help.
Hurdles of digitization in healthcare - Why does everything take so long?
Challenges in the digitization of healthcare in Germany are as follows (16):
- Bureaucracy in healthcare
- Cost of technologies
- Identification of the right technology
- Training staff to use the technology
- Complexity of the technology
- Challenges in sharing patient data
- Convincing staff of the benefits of technology
- Increased use of technology
- Presentable evidence of outcomes
Opportunities of digitalization for health insurers
The Corona pandemic and the associated digitalization also present opportunities for health insurers. Preventive self-care with the help of health apps, has increased through Covid-19 – even among older people. A Bitkom survey shows that 29% of Internet users over 65, already use apps that help them with sports, healthy eating and other important health topics. 36% of respondents can imagine using apps that provide behavioral or motivational advice based on recorded body and fitness data (17). This could potentially prevent expensive treatments as a result of an illness, thus saving high costs for health insurance companies.
Effect of Corona on Physical Activity Behavior of the German Population
Pandemic control measures not only have an impact on healthcare, but also on the daily routines of many people. For example, the home office eliminates the daily commute, which may involve a lot of exercise. However, time spent sitting may increase. One study confirms this assumption and shows a significant increase in sedentary time and an unhealthy diet, which in turn indicates a sedentary lifestyle (18). However, there are also positive developments with regard to physical activity behavior. In a representative survey conducted by the German Health Insurance Company (DKV) last year, 22% of respondents said they were cycling more (19). Exercising at home or in the garden also increased. Further, walks were also mentioned as an activity. According to the survey, 37% of respondents said they integrate them into their daily routine. Instead of using public transportation or cars, 26% of interviewees prefer to walk some distances. Despite lockdown and contact restrictions, Germans try to keep moving (20).
Digital concepts for maintaining mobility
Despite the positive development of physical activity, there were also setbacks. For example, a decline in physical activity of – 56 % was recorded on New Year’s Day (21). The reasons for this can only be speculated. After a year of the pandemic, it is difficult for many people to motivate themselves because of a general dissatisfaction. Although some measures are understandable, the desire for more normality is increasing. This makes digital concepts for maintaining mobility all the more important. Exercise must remain a part of everyday life. Health prevention is just as important a component of the digitalization of healthcare. YAS.life offers the solution: the digital bonus program supports users in staying active. With the help of attractive rewards, preventive behavior such as exercise, fitness and other measures are rewarded.
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(2) RKI – Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 – COVID-19: Fallzahlen in Deutschland und weltweit. (o. J.). accessed March 22 2021
(3) Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung (2020). accessed March 22 2021
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(6) Robert Koch Institut (2020). Kennzahlen zur Corona-Warn-App. accessed March 23 2021
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(9) Digital McKinsey (2018). Digitalisierung im Gesundheitswesen: die Chancen für Deutschland. accessed March 23 2021
(11) Bertelsmann Stiftung (2018). #SmartHealthSystems. Digitalisierungsstrategien im internationalen Vergleich. accessed March 24 2021
(13) RKI – Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 – Epidemiologischer Steckbrief zu SARS-CoV-2 und COVID-19. (o. J.). accessed March 26 2021
(14) luca App – verschlüsselte Kontaktdatenübermittlung. (2020, September 10). accessed March 26 2021
(15) Bundesregierung (2020). accessed March 24 2021
(16) Herausforderungen bei der Digitalisierung von Gesundheitsorganisationen in Europa. (o. J.). accessed March 24 2021
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(18) Ammar, A., Brach, M., Trabelsi, K., Chtourou, H., Boukhris, O., Masmoudi, L., … Hoekelmann, A. (2020). Effects of COVID-19 home confinement on eating behaviour and physical activity: Results of the ECLB-COVID19 international online survey. Nutrients, 12(6), 1583, DOI: /10.3390/nu12061583
(19) Süddeutsche Zeitung. (2020). Mit dem Rad und zu Fuß: Corona bringt Deutsche in Bewegung. accessed March 24 2021
(20) Janson, M. (2021). Deutsche werden trotz Lockdown wieder mobiler. accessed March 24 2021
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