For many patients in practices, one thing has been digitally networked so far: their own cell phone while sitting in the waiting room. Now the breakthrough is for a central application with concrete benefits.
Millions of patients will soon have important health data available in an electronic file as standard. This is provided for by a law passed by the Bundestag, which the Bundesrat is finally dealing with today.
According to the plans of Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), everyone with statutory health insurance should receive e-patient files at the beginning of 2025 – unless they reject it. Research using health data should also make progress. The law also regulates the mass use of electronic prescriptions, which has been increasing since the beginning of the year.
A race to catch up in digital healthcare
The head of the Techniker Krankenkasse, Jens Baas, told the German Press Agency that the legal plans set the course for digital solutions to really reach people and also offer them noticeable benefits. Now we need quick implementation. “The electronic patient file will only be a success and a natural part of a doctor’s visit if all important data is stored there,” said Baas.
Lauterbach made it clear that it is a matter of catching up so that Germany can catch up with digitization in the healthcare system after many delays. The key point is to bring together previously scattered data from previous treatments.
This is intended to enable doctors to provide better treatments and avoid multiple examinations and unwanted drug interactions. Patients should also be able to easily see what data about them is in the files.
E-patient records for everyone
A breakthrough is expected for electronic patient records (ePA) – as a personal data storage that accompanies you throughout your life. E-files were introduced as an optional offer in 2021, but so far only around one percent of the 74 million people with statutory health insurance have one at all.
The declared goal is 80 percent by 2025, and the government is switching to the “opt-out” principle: the health insurance companies should provide broad information and automatically set up an e-file for everyone by January 15, 2025 – unless you object . Private health insurance companies can therefore also offer e-files.
The e-file with certain identification rules should be accessible via cash register apps. You should be able to decide for yourself what doctors can set and who can access what. First, an overview of medications should be available, followed by laboratory findings, among other things. If you change health insurance, you can take the data with you. According to the ministry, you should be able to view the ePA in selected pharmacies without a smartphone. Ombudsman offices of the health insurance companies are intended to support insured people who do not manage their ePA via an app.
Children and young people should also receive an e-file. A possible contradiction would then be explained by the legal representatives – usually the parents, who initially also manage their children’s files. The ministry explained that minors should be able to use the ePA independently by the age of 15 at the latest.
E-prescriptions across the board
Since January 1st, all practices have had to issue prescriptions digitally as standard, which can be redeemed in several ways. The law now explicitly states this again. The obligation actually existed from the beginning of 2022, but a widespread start was delayed due to technical problems.
There is now an easier way to redeem it by inserting the insurance card into a reader at the pharmacy. Instead of the pink slip, a special app or a printed QR code can also be used.
In view of the mandatory requirements, e-prescriptions are already gaining momentum. Since the beginning of the year, almost 36 million e-prescriptions have been redeemed, as the majority federally owned digital agency Gematik announced in response to a dpa request. In December there were still 8.8 million. The law also provides for some pressure to change: If practices do not take part, they can face flat-rate reductions in remuneration of one percent.
More data research
Research based on health data should make progress. To this end, another law should make it possible to link data from various sources at a central access point – for example from cancer registries and health insurance companies.
Data should be encrypted (pseudonymized). An “opt-out” is again planned for data in e-files: You should initially have a setting for “data donations”, which you can reject.
Health apps and telemedicine
Telemedicine offerings such as video consultations are to be expanded – this can also close gaps in rural regions. For this purpose, regulations that previously only ensured that practices received remuneration from the health insurance companies for a limited range of services should be eliminated. The aim is to expand the range of certain health apps that patients can get with a prescription.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.