Hospitals in Germany say they expect regional e-health networks to deliver substantial cost savings of up to €2 million a year.

The figures are extrapolated from a new survey, conducted by German software giant SAP. In its survey of hospital managers at ten major hospitals using SAP, respondents said they anticipated average savings of €100 for every patient.

The cost savings identified came from the improved efficiencies of using e-health networks to connect the hospital and its co-operating doctors in private practice.

The use of such a regional e-health network enables doctors to refer patients to the hospital electronically. It also enables hospital doctors to access laboratory and other medical data from their ambulatory colleagues.

“For a big hospital, a saving of €100 for every ‘e-health patient’ adds up to several million euros a year”, said Dr. Peter Langkafel, SAP’s industry director healthcare for the EMEA region.

Dr Langkafel added that based on the assumption that an electronic care network would be used for one out of five patients, a hospital with 100,000 patients per year, could save €2 million.”

If true, this would represent a compelling timescale for a return of investment. “For an average university hospital, we talk about a project volume of €2-3 million,” said Dr Langkafel.

Dr Lutz Fritsche, the deputy medical manager of Charité University Hospital in Berlin, gave E-Health Europe further details of the calculations. He suggested the figure of €100 per patient saving could be too low.

Dr Fritsche said that Charité, with more than 150,000 patients per year, could save €110 per ‘e-health patient’. “This means that we might be able to save as much as €6.1 million per year hospital wide.”

There are four areas in which these savings are generated, according to Fritsche. The biggest share is a reduction in diagnostics: In a DRG-based healthcare system like the German one in which a hospital is paid “per case”, less diagnostics means less costs and thus more revenue.

If hospital doctors had better access to the results of ambulatory diagnostics, they would have to do less diagnostics in-house. “This alone would save us €2.3 million per year”, said Dr Fritsche.

Dr Fritsche is convinced another €1.9 million could be generated by an increase in patient numbers. And a reduction in the average length of hospital stay plus a reduction in complications could bring another €1.5 million, he said.

An obvious limitation of the SAP survey is that, again, it is talking about expected savings and not about real money. Although all ten hospitals that participated in the survey do have some experiences in e-health pilot projects, none of them is yet running an electronic e-health network in everyday care.

For SAP, at least, the results of the survey come at the right time. Together with Accenture, the company is planning to roll out the integrated care solution CHN (Collaborative Healthcare Network). CHN was first announced in 2006. So far, no pilot projects have been announced. Dr Langkafel says this will still happen in due course.