Germany introduces Digital Supply Act to digitalise healthcare

Health minister Jens Spahn defended the new legislation against concerns about the use of patient data for medical research.
By Tammy Lovell
07:21 AM

German federal parliament, the Bundestag has passed legislation to digitalise the country’s healthcare.

The Digital Supply Law (DVG), which was proposed by minister of health Jens Spahn earlier this year, was passed by the parliament on 8 November.

Under the new legislation, doctors will be able to prescribe digital health apps to patients, which can be reimbursed by the country’s statutory health insurance. App providers will have to prove to the federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) that their apps can improve patient care. 

Also, doctors will be able to receive money for providing online consultation to patients with statutory insurance. Doctors will be allowed to provide information about video and online consultations on their websites, whereas before they had only been able to discuss these in private conversations.

The legislation also aims to phase out the use of paper by promoting e-prescriptions and providing doctors with higher reimbursement for sending electronic medical letters than for faxes. Germany also plans to bring in electronic health records (EHRs) for patients with statutory insurance by 2021.

However patient advocates have complained that the act does not allow patients to opt out of having their data shared for research purposes. 

The act allows billing data from health insurance funds to be used by authorities, research institutes or university hospitals without prior consent for research purposes. This includes patient information such as age, gender, place of residence, health status and treatments.

Patient data will be transmitted in pseudonymised form and stored at a central data point. Spahn said the data will also be anonymised for research purposes to prevent the possibility of tracing and identification.

WHY IT MATTERS

Germany is the world’s second largest healthcare market after the United States, spending around €374bn annually. However up until recently it has one of the lowest digitisation levels among developed countries.

The act is an attempt for Germany to expand the digitalisation of its health services after years of stagnation.

THE LARGER TREND

Around 73 million people are under Germany’s statutory insurance system, representing 90% of the population.  

In April, Spahn officially launched the Health Innovation Hub (HIH), to drive the digital transformation of Germany’s healthcare system. International digitalisation was set as the top priority for the new initiative.

ON THE RECORD

Speaking on the German breakfast TV show, ZDF Morgenmagazin last week, Spahn called the prescription of health apps under the Digital Supply Act a “world first”.

Responding to privacy concerns, Spahn said: "It is about making health research possible in order to get better insight into patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes.”

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.