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In late 2015 the German healthcare system entered a new era with the entry into force of the federal government’s eHealth Act. The Act aims to introduce a digital information and communication structure into the healthcare sector in order to improve the cost effectiveness and quality of healthcare. But which data is collected and how? Who will have access to it and when? And what is the role of the four key interest groups – patients, doctors and hospitals, healthcare service providers and the healthcare industry – in this process?These questions are still largely unresolved and were the focus of the TAGESSPIEGEL eHEALTH FORUM, designed to serve as the new information and network platform of the healthcare sector. On February 15, 2017, the forum took place under the motto “On pioneers, pacesetters and shapers”. In his opening keynote, BIH CEO Erwin Böttinger explained very clearly how digitalization offers much more than the opportunity to share and link up patient data. “We need intelligent eHealth systems to improve patient care, for example to apply drugs and medicines in a much more targeted way,” said Böttinger. These kinds of systems also save costs, for example if the treating medical personnel can see from the outset that a patient does not respond to a certain drug and therefore do not prescribe it. “In order to make full use of the potential of eHealth, however, we still need to overcome a fair amount of resistance against it from various quarters.” Data protection is still a stumbling block. Patient data would need to be extensively collected and made available “at the right time in the right place” as well as being accessible to research, said Böttinger. He therefore advocates “user-adapted data protection” where individuals can decide for themselves which data are made available and when. Böttinger himself is part of a working group of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina that is drafting a statement on eHealth to be presented in the fall. Better data is the key for individualized medicineFollowing the speech by Böttinger, representatives from healthcare and the healthcare industry discussed the opportunities and challenges associated with eHealth. Peter Albiez, CEO of Pfizer Deutschland GmbH, underlined the importance of innovations in developing new, individualized drugs and said that better patient data would be key for achieving progress here in the future. Bart de Witte, director of Digital Health at IBM Germany, reported on the terrible state of the IT infrastructure in some hospitals. He said that this is partly due to a reluctance to invest in this area. Health insurer AOK Nordost is currently trying out data exchange between hospitals and doctors in a pilot project in cooperation with the Sana hospitals. This allows outpatient and inpatient partners to exchange data but only with the prior consent of the patient. AOK Nordost CEO Frank Michalak also said that the health insurance company is considering introducing new models, alongside the solidarity-based health insurance scheme, that are geared towards individual patient data. Tobias Gantner, CEO of think tank HealthCare Futurists, stressed how important it is to explain to patients just how valuable their data is. He believes that doctors must engage extensively with the topic of eHealth, with further training in digitalization for example. All participants agreed that digitalization is set to revolutionize the doctor-patient relationship and the entire health system in Germany. Erwin Böttinger closed off the discussion round by saying that it would be crucial to associate eHealth with a different message in future: “We cannot guarantee data security – there is always going to be a residual risk. But the benefits we stand to gain are immense and in many cases they will be concrete and direct.”
Photo: Verlag der Tagesspiegel / Kerstin Müller Text: Wiebke Peters