The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts is supporting the establishment of a state-wide coordination office for a “Central Innovative Telemedicine-Assisted Healthcare Network in Baden-Württemberg” with funds totalling 600,000 euros for a period of five years. The office will be located in Mannheim and, according to Research Minister Theresia Bauer, it will make a significant contribution to boosting the quality and sustainability of innovative telemedicine projects. Health Minister Katrin Altpeter is convinced that telemedicine will improve the therapy and care of chronically ill patients, especially in rural areas.
“Telemedicine-assisted healthcare services need to be adapted to a greater extent to the criteria of evidence-based medicine, i.e. they need to show that they are more beneficial or at least as good as traditional healthcare services, as well as being cheaper. Only in this way can telemedicine technologies be correctly adapted to patient requirements,” says Research Minister Theresia Bauer. Bauer further highlighted that it is the coordination office’s task to ensure that telemedicine projects get through the prototype development and pilot phase and, in the long run, are given the opportunity to be recognised as evidence-based medicine and be assimilated as standard treatment. “Due to demographic change, telemedicine offers chronically ill patients, especially those in rural areas, the chance of better treatment and care,” adds Health Minister Altpeter.
The coordination office will pool telemedicine skills in Baden-Württemberg and act as the point of contact for anyone planning a project in the field of telemedicine or looking for partners for telemedicine projects. It will also take on the role of mediator between medical institutions, medical device manufacturers, associations and patients in order to drive forward the development of telemedicine applications and devices and their implementation in medical therapy and care. It will support the implementation of telemedicine projects from start to finish in order to ensure their sustainability.
The coordination office will be located at the Institute of Medical Technology (IMT), which is jointly run by the Heidelberg University Faculty of Medicine in Mannheim and Mannheim University of Applied Sciences. The coordination office will receive funding for a period of five years, after which it will become a self-supporting association.
In addition to the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts, Mannheim University Hospital, the city of Mannheim and BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg GmbH will provide organisational as well as professional support. The office will be managed by medical doctor and physicist Prof. Dr. Gerald Weisser. Weisser is the head of Information Technology and Quality Assurance at the Institute of Clinical Radiology and Nuclear Medicine at the University Medical Centre Mannheim and has been coordinating telemedicine projects for 15 years.
The coordination office will work closely with the Department of General Practice and Health Services Research at the University Hospital of Heidelberg, which, in cooperation with the Freiburg University Medical Centre, is preparing a quality management handbook with recommendations for the sustainable implementation of quality assurance measures in the field of telematics in Baden-Württemberg. The research associated with this handbook will receive funding of 130,000 euros from the state for a period of 18 months.
Many studies, including one carried out by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Families, Women and Senior Citizens, have shown that many telemedicine projects do not get beyond the pilot phase. Telemedicine projects usually lack follow-on funding from the statutory health insurance, as there are currently no billing codes available for the reimbursement of outpatient telemedicine services. One reason for this is that only a few telemedicine-assisted healthcare services have been shown to be beneficial or at least as good as traditional healthcare services for the patient, or to make treatment more cost-effective. This equally applies to medical device manufacturers in Baden-Württemberg who therefore lack the market for their products and are no longer investing in innovations.
Lead projects that want to show that telemedicine-assisted practices have future potential, need to take into account data protection issues, ensure the quality of medical services as well as follow specific quality assurance standards for telemedicine services. In addition, they also need to deal with technical requirements such as the ability to integrate services into the telematics infrastructure of respective users.