Digitization in healthcare at a glance

Digital solutions are enriching the healthcare sector. Important documents are no longer lost and many treatments can even be performed via video. Apps on prescription complement the treatments. It is easier for patients and doctors to see important information when required, e.g. emergency information or results.

At a glance

  • Digitization is changing almost every aspect of healthcare.
  • The electronic patient record (ePA) simplifies many processes and creates greater transparency.
  • Important documents like the certificate of vaccination, maternity record and dental bonus booklet are available electronically.
  • Health apps on prescription – also known as digital health applications (DiGA) – can support treatment.
  • Telemedicine enables remote medical services, for example video consultations.
A doctor uses a tablet to explain something to a man.

Digitization in healthcare – what is it?

Digitization in healthcare is in full swing: People with statutory health insurance can store medical documents in the electronic patient record (ePA) and share them with doctors as desired. Health apps that support and complement the treatment of various health conditions are already available on prescription. Telemedical solutions can also make some of the physical visits to medical practices unnecessary.

The dream of secure, nationwide networking within the healthcare sector has now become a reality. The telematics infrastructure enables medical practices, hospitals, pharmacies and other German healthcare facilities to securely exchange digital information.

The goal is to connect all participants in healthcare with one another. To do this, technology that protects all patient data is used. Information required for treatment is therefore available in a direct and simple manner.

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

The E-Health Act provided the initial foundations for the development of the telematics infrastructure and the introduction of medical applications. The Digital Healthcare Act established, for example, that health apps (digital health applications or DiGA) can be paid for by health insurance providers and prescribed by doctors and psychotherapists.

The Patient Data Protection Act enables the use of digital services such as the electronic patient record or the e-prescription. The Hospital Future Act promotes investment in the digital future of hospitals to further expand modern emergency capacities and improve digitization and IT security. The Digital Care Modernization Act provides a basis for creating new digital healthcare applications, expanding telemedicine and promoting modern networking in the healthcare sector.

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 2015. In addition to master data such as the name and address of the insured person, emergency data or an electronic medication treatment plan can be saved to the card. The medication treatment plan helps prevent unwanted interactions between different types of medication.

The introduction of the electronic patient record (ePA) marks another important step in the digitization of healthcare. 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, doctors can view important results, for example from previous visits to specialists or hospital stays.

This helps ensure patients receive better and more efficient treatment, for example by reducing 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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Important: As the insured person, you alone decide if an electronic patient record (ePA) is created, which data is stored in it and who may view it.

From digital certificate of vaccination to apps on prescription

The interconnectedness of the healthcare sector and the electronic patient record (ePA) provide the foundations for the next steps in digitization. 

The certificate of vaccination, the maternity record, the child examination booklet and the dental bonus booklet can all be used in digital form in the ePA.

The electronic sick leave notice (eAU) is also gradually replacing the paper version. Prescriptions can also be digitally issued and redeemed: The e-prescription for medication has been available for use since the start of 2022.

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

Numerous health apps and web applications are already available on prescription from doctors and psychotherapists. These digital health applications (DiGA) can support and complement the treatment of a number of conditions.

Telemedicine: remote healthcare

Telemedicine offers a variety of digital services that complement physical visits to a doctor or medical practitioner. Video consultations via a computer or smartphone can save travel and wait times. Medical professionals can use tele-expertise to exchange information more easily and collaborate more successfully. 

Another important aspect of telemedicine is the electronic recording, transfer, and monitoring of important health indicators, such as blood pressure or heart rate, known as telemonitoring. Doctors and patients can use apps to share such indicators, for example.

Is the patient data secure?

From the electronic patient record (ePA) and the transmission of medical data to online consultations, data protection is key to sustainable digitization in the healthcare sector.

Patients have a right to the best possible protection of their medical data. Questions about data privacy and data protection are therefore dealt with carefully in all areas of digitization.

Which digital solutions improved healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, several digital solutions helped stem the spread of COVID-19 and maintain healthcare services.

Various digital reporting and information systems were used to inform the health authorities about positive SARS-CoV-2 cases as quickly as possible and to notify people who have been in contact with those infected.

The coronavirus warning app was also used to track contacts and break chains of infection. People were also able to use the coronavirus warning app and the CovPass app to display digital proof of vaccination status, recovery and negative test results.

Since April 2020, an additional digital system has been recording the real-time utilization of intensive care beds. This makes it possible to constantly identify and optimally use free capacities.

Research and health: digital data for new insights

With increasing digitization in the healthcare sector, ever more information is theoretically available about the development, outlook and treatment of medical conditions. The analysis of this anonymized data can further improve healthcare services.

This kind of extensive data is also known as big data. For example, suitable analysis methods can make it easier to identify relationships between risk factors and health conditions. This enables medical practitioners and pharmacists to develop new methods and treat people more individually.

From 2023, it should be possible to voluntarily donate medical data from the electronic patient record (ePA) for research purposes. As in all areas of healthcare digitization, extensive measures to protect data are already being taken in the field of research in preparation for this.

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