“Digital Health” – Digitalisation in the Medical Sector Requires Excellent Local Research


First-Hand Information on Economic Policy

From left to right: Anne Guhlich, Johannes Bauernfeind, Theresia Bauer and Achim Wambach discuss why Germany needs more health data.

As digitalisation has reached the health sector, medical innovations will be driven more and more by the use of data. Analysing and connecting patient data is playing an increasingly important role in the early detection of epidemics and for developing patient-specific treatment plans. The use of patient data presents opportunities as well as challenges for patients, the public health sector and Germany as a business hub. This raises the question of why Germany is not up to speed on the use of health data. How can the full potential of health data be used and competitiveness be increased? ZEW President Professor Achim Wambach, Baden-Württemberg Minister of Science Theresia Bauer, and health expert and chairman of the board of AOK Baden-Württemberg Johannes Bauernfeind discussed these questions in a panel debate at BW Bank Stuttgart on 1 June 2022. ZEW Mannheim organised the panel discussion together with the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts Baden-Württemberg. Anne Guhlich and Joachim Dorfs, editors-in-chief of the Stuttgarter Zeitung, moderated the event.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the shortcomings of in the German health care system in terms of digitalisation. These must now be addressed and remedied as quickly as possible,” said ZEW President Achim Wambach at the start of the event. Compared to other countries, the German health care system is particularly ill prepared for exchanging information on both the national and international level. According to Wambach, innovations in the medical field require more efficient data protection at federal and European level, rapid expansion of the digital infrastructure in Germany, promotion of innovation and more acceptance by citizens. The German health sector is facing major challenges. These can only be overcome through excellent research and innovation.

Many barriers need to be removed to modernise the health care system

The panellists (from left to right) Johannes Bauernfeind, Theresia Bauer, Achim Wambach and Joachim Dorfs.

Professor Wambach advocated anchoring health economic research more strongly at the regional and national level, as this makes it easier to transfer research results to the market. Another important tool is digital platforms that comply with data protection and security standards. Providing publicly funded data silos could be an effective measure to achieve higher acceptance in society and reduce concerns about the increasing economisation of the health care system. Starting in 2023, the Health Research Data Centre will be dedicated to holistic research in the health sector. The central collection of anonymised data represents a milestone for the exchange of health data, as it breaks down barriers between the individual health sectors and health insurance providers. The Forum Gesundheitsstandort Baden-Württemberg also plays a key role in advancing the use of health data and enabling innovation in the health care sector. ZEW Mannheim contributes to the Forum with its publicly funded Research Group “Health Care Markets and Health Policy“, which was established in 2021.

In the debate, Science Minister Theresia Bauer spoke out in favour of strengthening Baden-Württemberg as a research and business hub. In this context, she said it was crucial to reduce bureaucratic and legal hurdles, to push ahead with the implementation and expansion of the technological infrastructure and to set standards for data use. Following the federalist principle, regional scientific expertise could influence legislative procedures at national and European level. Thereby, we should not be afraid to reconsider some long-established ethical positions. The digitalisation of the health care sector requires both public funding and economic innovation.

Johannes Bauernfeind, chairman of the board of AOK Baden-Württemberg, criticised that the data was already available, it was just not being used to its full potential. He suggested expanding local research in digital health and data science to further improve patient-specific treatment solutions. Electronic medical records allow patients to control the use of their personal data.