Many of Europe’s large hospital groups have now – by will or force – started to seriously consider how outpatient and non-acute care can be treated remotely. However, when each doctor decides what and how any digitalisation is implemented then any strategy will be fragmented. That means groups directly employing their doctors are much likely to get ahead.
Swiss Medical Network is Switzerland’s second-largest hospital group with €500m turnover in 2019 but the co-founder of parent company Aevis Victoria recently told HBI that he has no idea how many teleconsultations have been run through the hospital because it’s the responsibility of each doctor.
We suspect that many other hotelier groups have the same lack of knowledge about the digital tools that their doctors use. Spire has in the past told investors that digitalisation is not a priority and there’s little noise coming from Hirslanden and BMI. The French are slightly more ahead as Ramsay Santé is starting to experiment (mostly because of Capio’s experience) and Elsan has got partnerships with doctor-booking platform Doctolib, among others.
But the real effort to change the way that patients are treated and guided through the system is coming from the salaried groups. Helios is building a digital companion to transform its outpatient care (more on that next week) and it and competitor Asklepios want to become digital health companies in their own right – not just users of supplier’s technology.
Telehealth is a very basic level of digitalisation for any hospital or outpatient group – one that might improve access for patients but has limited effect on productivity, triage or efficiency of the patient pathway. The service is becoming increasingly commoditised, proved by the fact that the digital executive of one large salaried German hospital group decided its supplier based on price and interoperability.
In other words, it’s become a procured product that Doctor A and Doctor B can use different solutions to access and probably have the same outcomes. The problem comes when at a strategy level nobody is tracking the outcomes because it doesn’t feed into a larger group.
When that comes to more complex levels of digitalisation – for example implementing a digital therapeutics programme to improve follow-up care for a whole cohort of rehab patients – then it’s much more likely to succeed and to prove its value if it’s implemented at a top-down level.
Senior executives need to know what digital tools its doctors are using and keep track of utilisation, productivity and outcomes. That data can inform decisions that can at a basic level bring costs down. At a much higher strategy level, a cohesive policy that shapes the future of care can only be done when individual doctors are not left to make their own decisions. That will see some groups race ahead to new frontiers – and others left to be disrupted.We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Rachel Lewis or call 0207 183 3779.