Mystery doctor’s letter

The report is two weeks old, it has what it takes to become a scandal and yet it goes unheard: a large number of general practitioners spend up to an hour a day reading medical letters, especially from clinics. And they don’t understand them. A study conducted by the University of Düsseldorf has shown this very clearly. The Ärztezeitung has reported on this. Nobody should be able to say that he did not know. And yet: Nothing.

Incomprehensible abbreviations, superfluous information, no structure, real gaps. The doctor’s letter in its current form is obviously not a suitable instrument for doctor-to-doctor communication. There are clear legal obligations for reliable discharge management. Author and reader of the letter also both studied, even the same subject. Nevertheless the quality of the communication is so miserable that the physician letter is more than a source of error: It is obviously a mistake warranty.

And yet I am again meeting players in the healthcare sector for whom the scan of a handwritten doctor’s letter is already a step in the direction of digitization. Most recently at a high-ranking conference in Berlin in April 2019. Spoiler alarm: It’s not. The study by the University of Düsseldorf clearly shows how low the fruits of the digitisation of the health system actually hang. 12,000 symptoms are classified. They must be recorded and documented, and one or more of the 10,000 diseases described must be deduced. What is an ongoing overload for the human brain mutates into a finger exercise in digital communication. Every computer science student in the first semester will program a communication logic that reliably processes and transports this information. Just as a warm up in the morning.

Did we ever think that a letter was the right medium to share complex medical data? We are not yet talking about the legitimate requirement of patients to receive their own medical data and its clinical interpretation first and foremost themselves – and in an understandable form. Anyone who has a serious interest in increasingly digitalised medicine for the benefit of people will start tomorrow.

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