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Germany to draw up digital health strategy

Plans to digitise health and care are at the heart of a new digital strategy that the German federal government submitted to the Bundestag, the country’s parliament, earlier this week.

The digital strategy is intended to outline the overarching framework for how digital policy in Germany will be developed over the next few years. The government has said Germany needs a "comprehensive digital awakening" in order to be among the top 10 in the European Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) by 2025. It currently ranks 13 out of 27.

The digital strategy addresses a range of issues, including the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing capabilities. Plans to make better use of technology and data in the health and care sector are also prominent. One aim in this regard is for a separate strategy to be developed that advances the digitisation of health and care.

The government has outlined its intention to listen to the suggestions and ideas of stakeholders. The participatory process will be followed by an intensive evaluation of the contributions, from which the strategy will then be set. The strategy is expected to be presented in spring 2023.

The process of drawing up the strategy began earlier this month at an event in Berlin. An online survey has been opened to gather the views of stakeholders, and specialist forums are also planned over the coming weeks.

Dr. Julia Traumann and Marc L. Holtorf of Pinsent Masons in Munich said the new digital health strategy is expected to build on the contents of the broader digital strategy (52-page / 522KB PDF) submitted to the German parliament a few days ago by the federal government in Germany, as well as existing provisions of the Digital Healthcare Act.

“Germany is the third largest market for medical technology in the world, after the US and Japan, but by the government’s own admission there are downsides to the decentralised health system that operates in the country, which it has described as ‘somewhat complex and slow in bringing new care models and innovation to market’,” Holtorf said.

“Current challenges in relation to digitisation in health and care include the implementation of the move to electronic prescriptions, data protection challenges around use of health data, and a lack of skilled workers in the sector – not just in the field of medicine, but in the context of digital skills,” Traumann said.

One focus of the digital strategy that has already been published is widespread implementation of electronic patient records.

The idea behind electronic patient records is that it enables health practitioners to access up-to-date information about a patient at the point of care. Last year, a voluntary scheme was established to encourage holders of statutory health insurance in Germany to participate. The German federal government’s intention is to move to a system where electronic patient records are automatically developed for the 73 million people with health insurance in the country unless they actively ‘opt out’ of the scheme. The government’s target is for 80% uptake by 2025.

Other aims of the digital strategy include moving to a system whereby electronic prescriptions of medicines are the default, and paper prescriptions operate as a fall-back option only.

Increasing the availability of health care data for the purposes of research and improving health care is a further aim. Among other things, the government wants to encourage holders of statutory health insurance to voluntarily provide researchers with access to their electronic patient records for the purposes of furthering medical research.

Moves to make health data more accessible to researchers corresponds with the aims of proposed new EU legislation published earlier this year. A regulation to provide for a new European Health Data Space (EHDS) has been drafted by the European Commission with a view to health data being stored in the EHDS and made accessible for purposes of research and development of new medical products.

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