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From the end of the paper mess: The e-prescription as a game changer

Team of Steinbeis experts assesses the opportunities and threats of e-prescriptions

According to a study into digital healthcare conducted by the German industry association BITKOM, half of all Germans feel the healthcare industry needs to “go digital,” especially if mounting healthcare costs are to be kept under control. The survey respondents are open to digital applications in healthcare services and almost 60% would use electronic prescriptions. The study also found that 65% of Germans see significant potential in using electronic patient records. In international terms, the German healthcare industry still has a lot of catching up to do, however. Experts at the Ravensburg-based Steinbeis Transfer Center for Technology – Organization – Human Resources (TOP) and their partner, PSO, want to do something about this. Together, they have developed and evaluated a prototype e-prescription app.

The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly accelerated change in the public health service, brought about by digital solutions. This is also leading to a growing number of novel e-health innovations. In August 2019, a draft “Bill for More Security in Medicine Provision” (GSAV) raised the curtain on electronic patient records and e-prescriptions in Germany. The aim is to allow data to be exchanged more quickly and securely between all stakeholders. For this to work, e-health apps will be needed to allow patients to manage their data and prescriptions themselves. Introducing e-prescriptions will be a game changer.

As part of a value/benefit analysis, PSO, a startup from Ravensburg, invited experts at the TOP Steinbeis Transfer Center to test eRiXa, its first e-prescription app, and compare it to other e-prescription apps on the market. To gain an overview of the health app market, the Steinbeis experts drafted a matrix of suppliers. Providers identified as market leaders were then included in the value/benefit analysis and put through rigorous testing by students at HTWG Konstanz (Constance University of Applied Sciences).

Zooming in on customer benefits – not every user is a heavy user

The project team identified three typical user groups for the e-prescription app and determined their needs and wishes for such an app. To add definition to the user groups, app users were profiled by age and typical medical conditions they have. This evaluation resulted in three different target groups: a young group of 18-to-30-year-olds, who are rarely sick, a mid-range group of 31-to-60-year-olds with chronic ailments, and the elderly target group of 61-to-99(+)-year-olds, who are more frequently sick. The target groups have similar underlying expectations for the app, but they do differ when it comes to more specific requirements. It was noticeable that the older the users are (and thus the more often they are sick), the more add-ons they expected the app to offer.

Analyzing value and benefits using the German school grading system

The project team conducted a value/benefit analysis for the three defined user groups and tested the app according to four key criteria: the technology, usability, app features, and providers. Based on these factors, tests evaluated a variety of performance attributes such as app installation times or the number of steps needed to register for the app. Each assessed criterion was weighted in percentage terms according to importance. The project team used German school grades to score the apps.

Project result: Use the opportunity but keep an eye on risks

E-prescriptions will be introduced (at the latest) by January 1, 2022, at which point they will become compulsory. In the meantime, there will be plenty of opportunities to prepare for the innovation by conducting pilot projects in the overall healthcare market. The Covid-19 pandemic has had an important influence on people’s perceptions of telemedicine as a major opportunity to offer contact-free patient care. Being able to issue e-prescriptions will be key to the success of offering treatment through telemedicine. It may spell extra work for doctors’ practices during the transition phase, but in the long term the new system will also offer time-saving benefits. This is because digital processes save time by freeing up physicians to look after patients.

It remains to be seen if this new approach to treating patients will ultimately become standard practice after the coronavirus pandemic. Online pharmacists are hoping that telemedicine and e-prescriptions will raise their share of the market for prescription medicines by up to 10%. Discussion flared up again recently about prohibiting mail order companies from selling prescription drugs in Germany, to protect pharmacists in the community. This is because there are already similar bans in most other European countries. It is important for local pharmacists to concentrate on offering personal advice and finding new fields of business, such as home deliveries. Focusing solely on selling and distributing drugs will not be sustainable for them in the future, because mail order pharmacists outperform others in terms of efficiency and can compensate for the time advantages of local pharmacists by offering same-day deliveries.

E-prescriptions would offer stakeholders in the healthcare sector a host of opportunities if they start using available apps and tools to prepare their patients for the future. The TOP Steinbeis Transfer Center offers a platform to help with this in the form of the joint eRiXa and e-prescription app project. For example, physicians, pharmacists, care homes, hospitals, and patients from all parts of Germany can make use of the testbed. The e-prescription app from Ravensburg builds a bridge between different stakeholders in the public health service and patients.

More on the eRiXa project and the e-prescription app: www.erixa.de


Stefan Odenbach (author)
Freelance project manager
Steinbeis Transfer Center: Technology – Organization – Human Resources (Ravensburg)

Prof. Edmund Haupenthal (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Transfer Center: Technology – Organization – Human Resources (Ravensburg)