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Germany’s Electronic Health Insurance Card: “Data protection for the insured person is unquestionably guaranteed”
Florian Lanz, spokesperson of the German Statutory Health Insurance Fund; © private
Since October 2011, Germany’s electronic health insurance card (“elektronische Gesundheitskarte” eGK) has been adopted into the everyday lives of patients and physicians for good. After a long and tedious process, it finally meets the required regulations to ensure data protection for the insured.
MEDICA.de spoke with Florian Lanz – spokesperson of the German Statutory Health Insurance Fund (”GKV Spitzenverband“) - which represents the main interests of the statutory health insurance and health care funds in Germany - about the advantages of the electronic health insurance card (eGK) for patients, physicians, health insurance companies as well as the German telematics infrastructure.
MEDICA.de: How does the electronic health insurance card differ from the traditional insurance card?
Florian Lanz: At first glance, the cards only differ in the picture that can be seen on the new health insurance card and shows the insured person.
The real difference however is in the electronic chip that is embedded in the health insurance card. The old insurance card was only able to specify the most important data about the insured person, but it could not “learn anything new“. Thanks to the microchip, the new health insurance card is adaptive and therefore also the key to the telematics infrastructure in Germany that is currently being built up.
MEDICA.de: What kind of advantages does the electronic health insurance card offer patients, physicians and health insurance companies?
Lanz: The electronic health insurance card offers many advantages for all parties involved. During the first step you detect at first glance whether the person who wants to get treated at a doctor’s office is actually really the health care recipient. These days it happens time and again that insurance cards are being abused, because somebody who has no insurance presents an insurance card to the physician. This problem indirectly affects all premium payers, because if people obtain benefits surreptitiously, these have to be paid for by all insured people.
However, that’s only the first step. The real added value for the insured person will develop over the next few years, namely because the card contains medical emergency data among other things. If you suffer an accident, the emergency physician can immediately read from the card what he needs to especially pay attention to for this particular patient, for example whether the victim requires certain vitally important medicine or whether he/she is a hemophiliac.
The electronic health insurance card is also going to save costs for health insurance companies. Today each insured person immediately receives a new card if he/she changes his address or name. In the future, the new electronic health insurance card will be automatically updated online, the minute the physician inserts it into a reader. There no longer is a need to constantly replace cards and this saves a lot of money.
And incidentally, communication between physicians is improving. If today a patient would like to take an X-ray or doctor’s report from physician A to physician B, it usually gets printed out, placed in an envelope and after one to two days the X-ray finally arrives at the other doctor’s office. In the future, this kind of communication is supposed to be done via an encrypted e-mail that can only be opened by the physician or the recipient. The data is absolutely safe in such an e-mail.
Thanks to the validation by the data protection authorities the health insurance companies feel absolutely confident that the electronic health insurance card meets all of the demands; © gematik GmbH
MEDICA.de: During the development of the electronic health insurance card, problems kept cropping up that delayed its launch for a long time. Are these problems fixed now and is data protection for the patients guaranteed?
Lanz: Data protection for the insured person is unquestionably guaranteed.
The safety of the electronic health insurance card was verified by two important public authorities. On the one hand, all procedures that are administered with the card are cleared with the data protection authorities in Germany. On the other hand, the card readers are certified by the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), so no data attack resulting from the equipment is possible.
Thanks to the validation by the data protection authorities, we – the health insurance companies – feel absolutely confident that the electronic health insurance card meets all of the demands, since the data of the people we insure is our most precious commodity. When it comes to data protection, there is nothing better on the market at this point in time.
We are now moving along very nicely in implementing the eGK. After the difficulties in the first project phase, in the spring of last year policy makers made a new start for the electronic health insurance card possible. Former German Health Minister Philipp Rösler had put everything about the card to the test, which resulted in considerable changes in the project structure. The first results we can already see is that currently in fact all medical practices and hospitals are equipped with the new readers and the first 10 percent of the population – approximately seven million people with statutory health insurance – will receive the new card by the end of 2011. So we are on the right track to where the eGK is indeed taking hold.
MEDICA.de: What kinds of applications are planned for the future?
Lanz: In the near future, three main projects are important to us: insurance master data management, medical emergency data on the card and physician-to-physician communication.
Insurance master data management means the online updating of important data. The medical emergency data on the card makes fast help possible in case of an emergency. In addition, we would like to build up communication between physicians and make it easier with the help of the electronic health insurance card.
We also would like to tackle other projects in the future that are meant to be simplified by the electronic health insurance card. This includes for example signing up to become an organ donor, medication or immunization records all the way to an electronic patient record. Thanks to the embedded microchip, the card offers very many possibilities. It can be improved electronically through online updates. The eGK opens the door to a modern telematics infrastructure – this is a good sign for insured people and physicians, but also for Germany.
The interview was conducted by Michalina Chrzanowska and translated by Elena O’Meara.