Five-digit costs: Using the warning app is expensive for laboratories
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More than 20 million people have the official German Corona warning app on their mobile phones.
So far, however, it has played no role in Michael Schleef's laboratory.
"We needed a quick and uncomplicated solution when the demand for corona tests rose sharply last year," explains the specialist in laboratory medicine.
His Munich laboratory, which in January said it was evaluating around 2,500 corona tests per day, decided against the warning app and set up its own website at the beginning of the crisis.
Anyone who takes a test receives a code made up of numbers and letters and can then download a PDF file of the results - without installing an app.
It still works like that now.
Similar solutions - without the app from the Robert Koch Institute - are also available in other laboratories.
"A smooth and timely implementation of the transmission of findings via the warning app seemed unlikely to us," says Nicolas Roth from the Center for Infectious Diseases in Berlin / Prenzlauer Berg (ZIBP).
The ZIBP laboratory also transmits results via its own website.
Many other laboratories use the warning app, but are also relying on other solutions: The Synlab laboratory association, for example, through which 180,000 tests were evaluated weekly in January, also uses the “My laboratory result” app.
The Aicher ambulance, which carries out around 3,000 tests every day in Munich, even lists five different ways of transmitting the results: by warning app, by website, by external app, by e-mail and by post.
How is it that the Corona warning app apparently plays no role at all or only a minor role in the transmission of test results in some places?
A question of cost
Many laboratories report that transmitting the results via the corona warning app is expensive.
More precisely: the establishment of the necessary technology.
"By establishing and adapting the interfaces for transmitting results to the Corona Warning App, all laboratories incurred considerable costs that had to be borne by the laboratories themselves," says Annett Dauchert from Labor Berlin.
Something similar can be heard from other laboratories.
On request, the Ministry of Health replies: "The laboratories incur no costs for connecting the laboratories to the Corona Warning App infrastructure." However, costs were incurred for adapting the internal IT systems.
How high these are, however, cannot be generalized.
In addition, the expense would be offset by "adequate laboratory income".
In fact, the test business is particularly lucrative for large laboratories, as SPIEGEL research shows.
Meanwhile, Andreas Brobrowski, the chairman of the Professional Association of German Laboratory Doctors, speaks of costs in the "five-digit range" for the first connection to the Corona warning app - an entry hurdle that has apparently deterred some laboratories.
After that, the app would be free to use.
But if you work differently, you don't seem to miss the warning app too much.
Overtime would result in high personnel costs
Technical problems in the early days were also not good advertising for the Corona warning app.
Results were sometimes not transmitted, some patients waited for weeks for results, and QR codes were incorrectly printed.
"The media kept saying that the laboratories weren't doing their job properly," says Andreas Brobrowski.
"We had to react." His laboratory in Lübeck also introduced an alternative to the warning app, the "My laboratory results" app.
Setting up this second solution was ultimately cheaper than just relying on the warning app, Brobrowski said.
Even if the Corona Warning app is free of charge for the laboratories after the one-time costs for setting up the laboratory: "Because the extra work and paperwork would otherwise have resulted in high personnel costs."
Private companies submit millions of results
The results are now often transmitted by private companies that are commissioned directly by the laboratories.
One of these companies is the OSM group, which offers software called ixpatient and has so far transmitted 1.3 million test results.
For comparison: the Corona warning app is said to have reported about 8.5 million results so far.
Another company that benefits from the skepticism towards the warning app is the Berlin start-up Doctorbox, which specializes in the digitization of patient files.
The company does not want to disclose exactly how many test results Doctorbox has submitted.
Among other things, it works with the test center on Munich's Theresienwiese, where around 3,000 tests are carried out every day.
The company has been growing since the beginning of the pandemic and is currently looking for new employees.
In addition to possible cost-benefit considerations, there are also additional functions of third-party software that make some laboratories disdain the warning app.
For example, some programs offer those who have been tested the option of downloading their results as a PDF.
"People who use the warning app often call us because this option is simply missing," says Andreas Bobrowski.
"A lot of work again."
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