To provide better orientation for patients, a state online directory of services and treatment quality at hospitals in Germany is to be created.

This is what Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) plans to introduce in law, which the Federal Cabinet is supposed to launch today. The “transparency directory” is intended to provide information about what is available at the respective clinic location in an understandable, interactive form, as the ministry explained. The start is targeted for April 2024.

“Patchwork of different hospital search portals”

The consumer advice centers support the general direction towards greater clarity. The federal association’s health expert, Thomas Moormann, told the German Press Agency: “Transparency has not yet been a strength of the health system in Germany.”

Patients would have a difficult time finding the most suitable hospital for them. “There is a patchwork of different hospital search portals.” However, it is not possible to tell how successful the respective hospital’s treatments are for a specific health problem.

“With a well-made transparency directory, that could change,” said Moormann. In order for it to have added value, the actual quality of the treatment results must also be asked from patients and displayed in such a directory. In addition, doctor-patient discussions played a significant role in the decision to choose a hospital. Therefore, information about the services and quality of the hospitals should already be available in the practices and be included in the discussions.

Clinical Atlas for Germany

The law is intended to complement a planned major hospital reform, the basic principles of which were agreed upon by the majority of the federal and state governments. This is a kind of clinic atlas for Germany: “Patients should be able to see which hospital in their area offers which services and how this clinic performs in terms of quality and medical and nursing staffing,” explained the ministry.

To this end, clinics will have to report additional data in the future – including on nurses and doctors. The information will then be combined with existing other data via two commissioned institutes and prepared for publication.

The clinics in the directory should also be classified according to levels of care – from basic care close to home to maximum providers such as university hospitals. They should be assigned to the levels based on 65 service groups that describe medical services in more detail – such as infectious diseases, pediatric and adolescent surgery, ophthalmology, urology, intensive care medicine.

Lauterbach insists on uniform requirements

There had already been a lot of fuss about the project in the struggle for a general reorganization of the clinics in Germany. The states prevented these “levels” from having a more controlling role in the reform itself. However, Lauterbach insisted on transparency and uniform requirements for treatment quality.

The federal and state governments want to tackle the hospital reform law together after they have agreed on key points. The federal government is now making the directory on its own.

The future information portal is aimed at planned operations and treatments for which patients also travel to distant clinics. In emergencies, you usually have to go to the nearest suitable house as quickly as possible. The ministry hopes that greater comparability will also motivate clinics to improve quality.

Concern for the planning competence of the states

But there were also warnings from the countries and the industry. The Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told the editorial network Germany that he saw the danger that patients would be led on the wrong track by the “level” assignment.

This endangers the acceptance of particularly smaller facilities among the population. There is also a risk that patients will be mismanaged and that primary and maximum care providers will be overburdened by minor cases. The German Hospital Association has already complained about a massive intervention in the planning competence of the states.

The German Social Association (SoVD) is calling for greater patient participation. “Patient-oriented quality information cannot exist without comprehensive patient participation,” said CEO Michaela Engelmeier to the “Augsburger Allgemeine”. The SoVD also demands that the transparency directory be published “by an independent body that is independent of the state and solely committed to the interests of patients” and not by a state authority.