The "Act on secure digital communication and applications in the health care system" (the e-Health Act in short) took effect on December 29 last year. By the end of 2018, hospitals and medical practices will be gradually introduced to the new features of the electronic health card and telemedicine. The Act intends to give attending physicians easier access to patient medical records and lighten the workload for medical staff as well.
In this interview with MEDICA.de, Bernd Altpeter, CEO of DITG, explains the advantages of the commencement of the e-Health Act and how patient data is being protected.
Mr. Altpeter, what are the concrete advantages of this innovation for both physicians and patients in your opinion?
Bernd Altpeter: The benefit is that all patient data is available, always giving treatment facilities such as hospitals and physicians complete insight into the patient’s medical history and medication. This ensures that measures are taken based on the patient’s full medical history. Of course, this data needs to be regularly updated and the patient needs to consent to release his or her medical information to third parties. After all, the patient has control over his or her data as they are his or her private property.
Are you concerned that the confidential relationship between patient and physician could be compromised?
Altpeter: No, not at all. Quite the contrary actually. Based on our experience, the majority of patients have a positive attitude toward this innovation. They see the personal benefit in telemedicine and the e-Health Act. Patients often complained that insufficient data was being passed along. What’s more, patients trust they have a better chance of care, treatment and therapy when all of the required information is available.
Who is a great candidate for an online medical consultation for example?
Altpeter: On the one hand, it’s great for patients with minor ailments like a fever, cold, and cough. This allows physicians to first get an idea of the patient. On the other hand, an online medical consultation is also well suited for questions by chronically ill patients who like to obtain more information about their specific disease. Needless to say, there are also geographic advantages since people who live in rural areas typically have to travel a long way to get to the next practicing physician.
Do you see a risk of jeopardizing patient data security?
Altpeter: No, we have a very comprehensive data protection law in Germany. The legislator has very clear regulations on how this data needs to be stored to not fall into the hands of unauthorized parties. Today, people use countless apps on their smartphones which function outside the realm of our data protection regulations. This occurs on a voluntary basis. In doing so, people put far more data online that is unsecured or being transferred abroad. This is far more dangerous. All data handling subject to the e-Health Act is restricted and - as already mentioned- contingent upon the highest security standards.
Telemedicine is also intended to make it possible to conduct training sessions and continuing education in the virtual world. This is designed to reduce the cost of travel and save time. Can complications still arise?
Altpeter: The only complication could be that participants are not able to use this service because they have no Internet access or don’t use smartphones. For instance, we discovered during our study* that up to 50 percent of all chronically ill patients over the age of 70 don’t have Internet access at home.
Do you believe this model has a future and will be able to replace a traditional in-person doctor visit as well as make the work of physicians and medical staff easier?
Altpeter: It definitely makes the work of physicians and medical staff easier. However, this innovation is not able to replace a doctor visit because many diseases are far too complex, making an in-person visit absolutely necessary for a safe diagnosis and treatment plan. But I believe that it makes the work processes and patient care significantly easier which can also support the treatment.
*"Diabetes Coaching Study" by Prof. Stefan Martin and Dr. Kerstin Kempf
The interview was conducted by Lorraine Dindas and translated from German by Elena O'Meara.