Uwe Pöttgen,
head of corporate
department IT
at Asklepios

Asklepios is a leading private hospital chain in Germany with a very explicit and visible focus on IT systems for its 110 hospitals and social care facilities. As well as its home market in Germany, Asklepios also runs six hospitals in the US and is currently building hospitals in other European countries and even as far as China. 

In Germany alone, Asklepios claims to have 36,000 employees generating an annual turnover of €2.3 billion. In an exclusive interview, E-Health Europe’s Philipp Grätzel spoke to Uwe Pöttgen, head of corporate department IT at Asklepios, about the ‘Asklepios Future Hospital Programme’ and about the internationalisation of health-IT.

Mr. Pöttgen, head of IT at Asklepios is one of the most attractive jobs in health-IT in Germany at the moment. You have a lot of responsibility, and the Asklepios management is willing to invest heavily. How did you get into this position?

Uwe Pöttgen: By climbing up the ladder… I was educated as a computer scientist, started to work in the IT department of a small hospital and became head of IT there. I then went to the German Red Cross as head of IT and controlling. Not long after that, Asklepios had the job as regional manager for South Western Germany on offer and I took the chance. We made some successful projects there, and then I was asked to become head of central IT services which I still am today. In the hierarchy, I am one level below the head of the management. This is certainly helpful for the Asklepios Future Hospital Programme.

At Barmbek hospital in Hamburg and at some other hospitals, Asklepios has established test laboratories for new hospital IT solutions, nicknamed “Asklepios Future Hospital Programme”. Which projects have already left these laboratories for roll-out across the group?

Uwe Pöttgen: The number one success is certainly our IT-infrastructure project. We call it OneIT. The goal was to create a platform that offers access to all the different information systems that are used in the different hospitals. We have implemented OneIT, among others, with the help of Intel and Microsoft. The OneIT platform has been rolled out at 70% of all computer workplaces in our hospitals. We will have all computers equipped by the end of this year. What is also available for every institution that is interested is our WLAN network, a heavily encrypted network for ward rounds with mobile computers. Then there is our new communication platform OneIT+, which is one of our most interesting projects. And we have RFID-solutions for neonatology on offer that generate an alarm once a baby is taken away from the ward.

What exactly is OneIT+?

Uwe Pöttgen: It is a mixture between a communication infrastructure and something that we call knowledge management. We have an online library that is accessible in every institution of the Asklepios group with around one thousand medical and health-related journals that can read and be searched on every computer. In addition, when searching for a particular topic, the user also finds out which expert on this particular topic is available in which Asklepios hospital. This is done by fingerprinting medical publications of our doctors and mapping them against our central directory service. If he has any questions, he could then either send an email or ask for a videoconference. All this has to be seen in context with the OneIT platform: the expert can not only talk to the requesting doctor, but he can also immediately access laboratory values, digital radiographs, and so on. Actually every application that runs on OneIT can be shared this way. In the case of digital radiographs, this is obviously not DICOM standard. Nevertheless, if a DICOM picture is needed, it can be sent via our doctors portal solution afterwards.

How well is this taken up?

Uwe Pöttgen: We receive excellent feedback. OneIT+ is certainly the Asklepios IT-project with the best feedback of our doctors. The library is regularly used by many of them. With the videoconferencing, I might be able to give some data on that in October. We started the roll-out only recently, in early July. What really amazed me was that employees quickly started to use OneIT+ in ways that we had not anticipated. Of course we thought it might be interesting to communicate electronically with colleagues in other hospitals. But this is true in-house too. Some of our surgeons, for example, use the communication tools when they are in the operating theatre to communicate with colleagues on the wards. The reason is that they do not have to leave the sterile environment but can remain dressed as they are.

Are there other examples of such surprising twists?

Uwe Pöttgen: We really have that regularly. Another example I remember was in our dashboard project. We are developing an electronic dashboard for emergency units to show which patient and which member of staff is in which room, and for how long. We have had many suggestions about additional information that should also be displayed, from doctors, from nurses and even from the cleaning staff. The result was that we have implemented an additional mini dashboard now for the cleaning staff that shows which rooms are prepared for cleaning. This was not difficult at all.

What about failures?

Uwe Pöttgen: There is always room for improvement. Something I am not satisfied with is our location based services. This is about locating medical equipment wirelessly so that technicians always know where the device is that they are looking for. We have tested different solutions, wireless LAN, ZigBee and others. So far all this is not accurate enough. Accuracy is around five metres in every direction, which means that a device identified to be on the third floor could in fact be on the fourth floor.

I know that Asklepios does not talk about its – probably substantial – IT investments. But you have some data on return of investment, don’t you?

Uwe Pöttgen: We have analysed the basic infrastructure project, OneIT, in detail. For our hospital cluster in Hamburg, we can prove that OneIT has led to a 26% reduction in annual operating costs for IT-services. This is quite substantial. One has to say, though, that this will certainly be less in stand alone hospitals that are not part of a regional cluster.

Asklepios is running hospitals in the US, and it is also engaged in other European countries. Given that the IT-development work is done in Germany: Can you transform what you have learned so far to other markets?

Uwe Pöttgen. We have to. Asklepios has explicitly decided to become an international player in the hospital market. For this reason, we have set up a global IT-project this year. It is called “Globalized OneIT” and brings together representatives of Asklepios’ hospitals all over the world. The goal is to standardise the IT platforms comparable to what we did in Germany, and, in particular, to create an international community of medical experts that can access our knowledge platform and communicate with each other globally. Give us some time for that, though.