German E-Health Law - A Breakthrough for the Digital Health Sector?
A Snapshot View on New Legislation to Regulate the Digitization of the German Health Market.
Digitisation has become a political buzzword in Germany, raising particular concerns with regard to the German healthcare system. German politics has long been lagging behind in creating an appropriate framework that balances health benefits versus data protection issues. Now a new e-health law is about to be passed, triggering a dynamic debate on digitisation, data and health.
At a recent convention of her Christian democratic party, German Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted for the first time that she was ready to reconsider her position as a staunch defender of Germany’s strict data protection rules, expressing her concern that Germany may fall behind in the digitisation process because its data protection standards are too high. She continued to describe data as the ‘resources of the future’, a statement which was welcomed by the German business community, while infuriating consumer protectionists.
In the area of e-health, which broadly encompasses health care practices supported by communication and information technologies, the enduring battle between innovative business ideas and traditionally strong German consumer protectionists has been particularly polarised. In Germany, there is by now a general agreement among health care practitioners that e-health is absolutely essential for dealing with the major future challenges of the German health sector: a shortage of doctors (especially in rural areas), the demographic change with an ever-aging population, and increased cost-pressure in the healthcare business.
But despite this consensus among experts, Germany is lagging behind in e-health matters, especially in comparison to Nordic countries like Denmark, Iceland and Norway. According to a study by the European Commission, a comprehensive data-exchange in Germany’s health sector in most cases fails at the outset because of the lack of IT-infrastructure in hospitals and little interconnection to other regional and national health institutions. Despite this obvious problem, only 28% of German hospitals have a clear strategy on how to tackle the challenges and opportunities which the digital transformation poses to health care.