Introduction

The government has started to strengthen digital networking in the field of e-health. In future, a doctor will be able to retrieve important emergency data directly from an electronic health card. Moreover, electronic referral letters and cross-facility electronic health records will be possible.

In 2011 Germany introduced the electronic health card. By October 2013, approximately 95% of insured individuals owned an electronic health card. However, only data saved on the old health card system (eg, name, address and date of birth) could be saved legally on the new cards.

Proposed changes

On July 3 2015 the government took the first step towards a draft bill of the E-health Act that will introduce new possibilities in electronic health card use and digital networking in the healthcare sector. From 2018, important data (eg, known allergies, implants or previous diseases) may be saved in the new system with patient approval, so that doctors handling emergencies can access it. Doctors adding relevant data to electronic health cards will receive an additional fee for this service. From July 1 2018 – provided that the underlying telematics infrastructure is available – all doctors and dentists who are not participating in the new system will face a flat reduction in their fees.

The draft bill is intended to input patients' specific medication plans onto the electronic health card in order to allow different doctors prescribing additional medicine to access the information, thereby helping to avoid critical interactions between medicines. From October 2016, a patient on at least three different prescribed medicines will have the right for his or her personal medication plan to be included on the electronic health card for doctors and health insurers to access. In the long term, the government intends to include medication plans for all other patients on the cards.

Patient data protection issues

A lot of important personal health data will be saved on electronic health cards or used for digital networking. As a result, the draft bill aims to clarify data access rights concerning the cards. Access to data must be recorded and insurers are obliged to inform patients about data saved. According to the draft bill, patients will be responsible for their own data and will be able to decide what will be saved and who can access it. The Federal Ministry of Health has highlighted that the safety level of the underlying telematics infrastructure is already higher than that for bank cards. In future, this telematics infrastructure will become the central communication infrastructure in the health sector.

Comment

The government has adopted a positive approach towards protecting patients against mistreatment due to lack of knowledge, while also giving patients wide self-determination rights. However, data protection professionals have long criticised the introduction of electronic health cards because the data security has not been tested thoroughly. It is important to consider the implications of saving further health data on electronic health cards without a tested and certified data security system. It is the responsibility of the government and IT experts to secure the data.

For further information on this topic please contact Tatjana Schroeder or Franziska Ladiges at SKW Schwarz Rechtsanwälte by telephone (+49 69 630 001 0) or email (t.schroeder@skwschwarz.de or f.ladiges@skwschwarz.de). The SKW Schwarz Rechtsanwälte website can be accessed at www.skwschwarz.de.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.