The German law on the protection of electronic patient data in the telematics infrastructure will be implemented, slowly but surely. It’s about time, because we’re already late – an opinion
The German Bundestag decided on the German law on the protection of electronic patient data in the telematics infrastructure, better known as Patient Data Protection Act (PDSG), this summer. By now, the German Federal Council has also passed the PDSG. So, we are on the home stretch of a long, troublesome, and thus very important path to a digitalized health care system. The PDSG is the legal prerequisite for the Electronic Health Record (ePA). But this alone is not enough.
Potentials are unused
We are late in comparison to many of our European neighbors. In Germany, an enormous amount of data, e.g. medical findings, x-rays, or medical reports, is stored in analog and decentralized forms. This is inefficient in many ways; to be dramatic: it may cost lives. Digital applications naturally should not become a gateway for data theft, but that is not a problem in terms of technology. Of course, the relatively high data protection standards, compared to non-European countries, have to be maintained, but that is not an unsolvable technical problem either. Still, there is much to be readjusted. Ulrich Kelber, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, rightly points out the insufficient attention to detail. It is hard to justify why a patient has to make his psychologists’ medical findings available to his dentist. By declaring the ePA to be of voluntary nature, Spahn, the Federal Minister of Health, took the soft option.
Digital data are a blessing, not a curse
But we have to accomplish a change in mentality first. A general skepticism regarding any technological progress still prevails in Germany. The Electronic Health Record in particular is affected by that skepticism. Spahn, the Federal Minister of Health, values the voluntary nature highly, and that is a good thing. However, if he does not succeed in showing the advantages to the general public – and those are massive – voluntary nature means irrelevance. The acceptance of the organ donor card is a good example for this phenomenon. The Electronic Health Record will create additional benefits for every single patient. However, in order to implement it as a successful system, the patient has to understand and value it. Whereas patients in Denmark worry about whether the attending doctor is able to access all relevant data in order to provide an extensive medical finding, patients in Germany are troubled by anxiety over data theft.
Sharing data means healing more efficiently
The German Corona-Warn-App shows that skepticism can be resolved by providing practical solutions and having a general public debate. Well, we also needed a little bit longer for this solution, compared to other countries. However, almost 20 million downloads signal that people are not fundamentally against digital solutions. On the contrary: we use digital support in many areas of life. By using instant messengers, voice assistants, connected cars, and so on, our everyday life is digitalized to a high degree. That’s why digitalizing the health care system is all the more important. Within this system, the ePA fulfils a very important function. Accessing vital data is crucial. The quote “sharing data means healing more efficiently” is more accurate than ever.