(new: access figures, 3rd paragraph)

BERLIN (dpa-AFX) - Where to go for a new knee joint or a major cancer operation? A new "Federal Hospital Atlas" can now help you decide which hospital to choose. The state comparison portal was launched on Friday and is intended to provide information on services and the quality of treatment at almost 1,700 hospital locations throughout Germany. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) spoke of a "clear guide through the hospital jungle", which should also enable new regional comparisons. Sharp criticism came from the hospital sector. Patient representatives welcomed the objective, but also saw gaps.

Lauterbach said that comprehensible information on good hospital care was now accessible to everyone and was no longer just the privilege of a few experts. Transparency is urgently needed in view of the 16 million hospital treatments per year and 500,000 new cancer patients per year alone. This is because most patients do not have a good idea of which clinic is particularly suitable for their treatment. And there are huge differences in treatments such as bowel cancer operations.

Compared to existing information portals, the Bundes-Atlas is particularly unique in the way it prepares data for patients, Lauterbach explained. "With just a few clicks, they can compare clinics and find the best clinic in their area for the treatment they need." Patients can see and assess ten clinics side by side instead of having to "hop from clinic to clinic". According to the ministry, there were more than five million hits in the first three hours, although some of the page views were a little slow. Important functions of the www.bundes-klinik-atlas.de portal at a glance:

The atlas: You can see, click on and search a map with all the clinics. The number of beds and the number of annual treatments are listed, which shows the experience. Certificates for treatment areas and how comprehensive the care for emergencies is at the location are indicated. A calculated value indicates the quality of care: it is calculated from the number of patients per nurse, taking into account the severity of the cases. And the lower the value, the better.

The search: You can enter your place of residence and an illness or a very specific treatment you are looking for in the portal, for example. The system offers search suggestions if you don't know the technical term. You could also enter "Ziegenpeter" for a mumps disease, said Lauterbach. According to the ministry, 28,000 treatment and 13,000 disease definitions are stored.

The comparisons: There is a kind of speedometer display for better classification for patients. The "faster" you go, so to speak, i.e. the further the needle moves to the right, the better. For the time being, there are two speedometers - for the number of annual cases of a treatment and for the number of nursing staff in the hospital. The speedometers have five colored elements that the needle can point to - from "very few" to "very many" cases, for example.

The findings: When comparing them, you could see that there were "huge differences in the smallest of areas", said Lauterbach. For example, there are 48 hospitals in Berlin and the surrounding area that perform bowel cancer operations, but only 18 of them are certified as special centers. In the case of severe bowel disease in children, there are clinics that perform more than 70 operations a year, while others only perform four. It is not the case that large clinics are automatically always "the winners". There are also small clinics that are very specialized.

The next steps: In a few weeks, the portal is to receive its first update and also provide complication rates for treatments. This will be followed by figures on the number of specialists. In general, the information will be updated regularly, explained the Institute for Quality and Transparency in Healthcare, which is coordinating the implementation. The data is somewhat "lagging", for example, the current case numbers are from 2022 and come from clinics and health insurance company invoices, among other sources.

The German Hospital Federation criticized the federal portal as "political actionism at the taxpayer's expense". It does not provide patients with any additional information and cannot act as a useful supplement. It brings even more bureaucracy to hospitals. The hospital sector recently expanded its own online overview. Among other things, the "German Hospital Directory", which has existed since 2002, now offers more search functions.

The German Patient Protection Foundation explained that people certainly want to know about the range of services and quality. "But the hospital atlas lacks crucial information," said Eugen Brysch, Chairman of the Board. "The quality of patient management in the clinic is not recorded." There is still a lack of binding guidelines and assessment factors. The German Social Association welcomed the atlas, but added that it must now prove its worth. "It remains to be seen how great the added value for patients really is."/sam/DP/men