Designing and Implementation of a Digitalized Intersectoral Discharge Management System and Its Effect on Readmissions: Mixed Methods Approach

Christoph Strumann*, Lisa Pfau, Laila Wahle, Raphael Schreiber, Jost Steinhäuser

*Corresponding author for this work


Background: Digital transformation offers new opportunities to improve the exchange of information between different health care providers, including inpatient, outpatient and care facilities. As information is especially at risk of being lost when a patient is discharged from a hospital, digital transformation offers great opportunities to improve intersectoral discharge management. However, most strategies for improvement have focused on structures within the hospital. Objective: This study aims to evaluate the implementation of a digitalized discharge management system, the project “Optimizing instersectoral discharge management” (SEKMA, derived from the German Sektorübergreifende Optimierung des Entlassmanagements), and its impact on the readmission rate. Methods: A mixed methods design was used to evaluate the implementation of a digitalized discharge management system and its impact on the readmission rate. After the implementation, the congruence between the planned (logic model) and the actual intervention was evaluated using a fidelity analysis. Finally, bivariate and multivariate analyses were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation on the readmission rate. For this purpose, a difference-in-difference approach was adopted based on routine data of hospital admissions between April 2019 and August 2019 and between April 2022 and August 2022. The department of vascular surgery served as the intervention group, in which the optimized discharge management was implemented in April 2022. The departments of internal medicine and cardiology formed the control group. Results: Overall, 26 interviews were conducted, and we explored 21 determinants, which can be categorized into 3 groups: “optimization potential,” “barriers,” and “enablers.” On the basis of these results, 19 strategies were developed to address the determinants, including a lack of networking among health care providers, digital information transmission, and user-unfriendliness. On the basis of these strategies, which were prioritized by 11 hospital physicians, a logic model was formulated. Of the 19 strategies, 7 (37%; eg, electronic discharge letter, providing mobile devices to the hospital’s social service, and generating individual medication plans in the format of the national medication plan) have been implemented in SEKMA. A survey on the fidelity of the application of the implemented strategies showed that 3 of these strategies were not yet widely applied. No significant effect of SEKMA on readmissions was observed in the routine data of 14,854 hospital admissions (P=.20). Conclusions: This study demonstrates the potential of optimizing intersectoral collaboration for patient care. Although a significant effect of SEKMA on readmissions has not yet been observed, creating a digital ecosystem that connects different health care providers seems to be a promising approach to ensure secure and fast networking of the sectors. The described intersectoral optimization of discharge management provides a structured template for the implementation of a similar local digital care networking infrastructure in other care regions in Germany and other countries with a similarly fragmented health care system.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere47133
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)e47133
Publication statusPublished - 26.03.2024

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