Germany introduces Digital Supply Act to digitalise healthcare

The law promotes telemedicine and foresees the reimbursement of medical apps.
On 8 November, the German Bundestag passed the Digitale-Versorgung-Gesetz (DVG), a law for greater digitisation of the health system.

Under the new legislation, doctors will be able to prescribe digital health apps to patients, which can be reimbursed by the country’s statutory health insurance. App providers will have to prove to the federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) that their apps can improve patient care and respond to security and data protection criteria. The health insurance funds will then pay for their use for one year and, during this period, manufacturers will have to demonstrate the effectiveness of their applications and negotiate a price with the GKV-Spitzenverband. Only regularly insured persons will benefit from the measure.

The new law also allows doctors to provide online confluences to patients with compulsory insurance and to be remunerated for these activities. Doctors will be allowed to inform patients about these services through their websites. This decision follows the opening in 2018 of the German Medical Association which paved the way for telemedicine by relaxing the ban on distance treatment.

The legislation also aims at phasing out the use of paper by promoting e-prescription and providing doctors with a higher reimbursement for sending e-reports than for faxing. Germany also plans to introduce electronic health records (EHR) for patients with compulsory insurance by 2021.

Teleconsultations, i.e. consultations between doctors, will be made possible on a larger scale and remunerated on an extra-budgetary basis. In order for patients to benefit from the new regulation, doctors, pharmacies and hospitals will need to be connected to the telematic infrastructure. The latter will be legally obliged to do so and doctors who refuse will be financially penalised (2.5% of their remuneration) from March 2020. Midwives and physiotherapists, as well as care and rehabilitation facilities, will be able to connect voluntarily to the data network.

The new law allows authorities, research institutes or university hospitals to use health insurance billing data for research purposes without the consent of patients. This includes information such as age, gender, place of residence, health status and care provided.

Patient data is transmitted in pseudo-anonymised form and stored in a central repository. Health Minister Jens Spahn said that the data will also be anonymized for research purposes to avoid the possibility of tracking and identifying the patient.

This aspect of the law has given rise to protests from some patient associations who would have liked to have had the opportunity not to share their data for research purposes.

The law is an attempt by Germany to expand the digitization of its health services after years of stagnation. In April, Spahn officially launched the Health Innovation Hub (HIH), to drive the digital transformation of the German health system.

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