Digitization in healthcare at a glance

Digitization is a topic that is becoming more important in the healthcare sector. It offers patients many benefits. Digital solutions create new opportunities for doctor visits, during treatment, and in emergency situations. And it helps address new challenges.

At a glance

  • Digitization is changing almost every aspect of healthcare.
  • The electronic patient record will simplify many processes and create greater transparency.
  • Important documents, such as the electronic certificate of vaccination and the maternity record will be available digitally from 2022.
  • Health apps on prescription (DiGA) can support treatment.
  • Telemedicine offers remote medical services, for example, online video appointments with doctors.
  • Data analyses can help to continually improve healthcare services.
Digitization in healthcare: doctor and man sitting on a couch in front of a large plate glass window. The doctor is looking at the man and pointing with one hand at a tablet she is holding in the other. The man is looking at the tablet.

Digitization in healthcare – what is it?

Digitization in healthcare is in full swing: health apps that supplement the treatment of various diseases are already available on prescription. Those with statutory insurance can save health records in their electronic patient record and share them with their healthcare providers. Telemedical solutions can make some of the physical visits to the doctor’s office unnecessary.

In the meantime, many important parts of a comprehensive digital networking infrastructure have been implemented. This includes specifically developed digital technology known as the telematics infrastructure. It provides the basis for exchanging information digitally and in a secure manner between practices, hospitals, pharmacies and other German healthcare facilities. The goal is to connect all participants in healthcare with one another. To do this, technology that protects all patient data is used. This interconnectedness offers advantages, not only for communication and administration, but also for patients. This is because information required for treatment is available in a much more direct and simpler way.

The following laws helped bring about particularly important progress in the digitization of healthcare:

  • E-Health Act (2016)
  • Digital Healthcare Act (DVG, 2019)
  • Patient Data Protection Act (PDSG, 2020)
  • Digital Care Modernization Act (DVPMG, June 2021)

For example, the DGV established that health apps can be paid for by health insurance providers and can be prescribed by doctors and psychotherapists. The Patient Data Protection Act (PDSG) puts digital offerings such as the electronic patient record or the e-prescription into practice.

Everything digital – the medical data card and electronic patient record

The electronic medical data card (eGK) has been used by patients as proof of insurance for doctor and dentist visits since the beginning of 2015. In addition to master data, such as name and address of the insured, emergency data or an electronic medication treatment plan can be saved to the card.

With the introduction of the electronic patient record (ePA), another important step in the digitization of healthcare has been taken. Since 2021, those covered by statutory health insurance can request an ePA and an accompanying app from their health insurance provider. If given consent by the insured person, the doctor can view important results from, for example, specialists or hospitals.

This helps ensure patients receive better and more efficient treatment. Furthermore, it helps reduce the number of duplicate examinations. With the electronic patient record, patients can view their own medical documents and use their app at any time.

What are electronic health records and the ePA app?

The video below explains the benefits that the electronic health record or ePA for short brings and how data is transferred.

This and other videos can also be found on YouTube.

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From digital certificate of vaccination to apps on prescription

The interconnectedness of the healthcare sector and the electronic patient record form the foundation for the next steps in digitization. 

Important documents that currently exist only on paper will soon be available digitally. This includes the certificate of vaccination, the maternity record, the child examination booklet and the dental bonus booklet, all of which can be viewed in digital form in the electronic patient record as of 2022. Furthermore, the electronic sick leave notice (eAU) will be added gradually to supplement the paper version as of October 2021. The printed version may still be used in parallel until July 2022.

The same applies to prescriptions. They may also be issued in digital form in the future, with the e-prescription available as of 2022.

Health apps and internet applications on prescription are already available and can be prescribed by doctors and psychotherapists. They can support and supplement the treatment of various illnesses. These digital health applications (DiGA) are approved for prescription only after their efficacy, safety and medical quality have been verified by an approval process.

Apps on prescription, also referred to as DiGA (digital health applications) can support and complement treatment of a number of conditions.

Telemedicine: remote healthcare

Telemedicine offers a variety of digital offerings, which in some cases are a good supplement to personal visits to the doctor or medical practitioner. Video consultations via a computer or smartphone can save travel and wait times. Medical professionals can use teleconsultations to exchange information more easily and collaborate.

Do digital solutions in healthcare ensure data privacy?

From the electronic patient record and the transmission of confidential information to online consultation – one of the most important topics in healthcare digitization is data privacy. Patients are entitled to maximum data protection of their medical data. 

Questions about data privacy and data protection are therefore extremely important in all areas of digitization. There are technologies that have not yet been implemented because of the challenges that still must be addressed in terms of data privacy.

Big data – lots of data for new innovations in healthcare

With increasing digitization in the healthcare sector, more and more information is available about the development, course and treatment of diseases. Using large, anonymized data volumes, known as big data, it is easier, for example, to identify correlations between risk factors and diseases. Doctors can treat patients in a more personalized way, and medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies are able to develop new methods. 

Processes in healthcare can become more efficient through the analysis of large volumes of data. As in all areas of healthcare digitization, extensive measures to protect data are also being taken for big data.

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