Digital Economy

Boom for IT providers

A new law will promote the digitization of the healthcare market in Germany, opening up many exciting new business opportunities for companies.

At the beginning of this year, the “e-health law” came into force in Germany and will fast-track the digitization of the country’s healthcare system. The law is good news for digital health companies because it paves the way for new products, for example, in telemedicine. Health Minister Hermann Gröhe is optimistic about the industry’s future. He says, “With the e-health law, we are backing up our electronic healthcare with all our strength.”

As part of a pilot project at a retirement home in Kirchlengern, North Rhine-Westphalia, a nurse gives a electrocardiography (ECG) device to an elderly resident. The device transmits the patient’s data to a tablet computer, which is then sent to her doctor. | © picture alliance/dpa

Medical video consultations are just one example of new opportunities emerging for digital healthcare companies. The new law not only allows doctors to advise their patients via webcam, it also ensures the health insurance funds pay for the costs. About 70 per cent of the industry experts surveyed by the IT association Bitkom reported that this creates new market opportunities. For example, when patients live far away from a medical practice, or are recovering after an operation, video consultations allow them to maintain communication with their doctor. Hardware and software providers as well as IT consultants hope that this will create new revenue sources for them.

Other business opportunities are also being created, as a result of the new law, with the further development of the electronic health card. Since 2015, all Germans who are members of a health insurance fund have such a card. Currently, the cards only store limited data, for example, the name of the patient, their address and patient number. From next year, additional data will be stored, including details of the patient’s blood type, allergies and emergency contacts. This additional data is to be recorded by doctors on their patients’ cards, requiring the installation of card-¬reading devices and the associated software in all medical practices. Pharmacies and nursery homes also need to have technology to read the cards. This provides business opportunities for software and hardware providers as well as IT consultants. “With the new law, we are paving the way for an electronic patient record,” says minister Gröhe.

Parallel to the e-health law, an innovation fund has been set up to help start-up companies in healthcare to design innovative products. The fund will have an annual budget of €300m by 2019. “The innovation fund is a huge opportunity for start-ups,” says Juliane Pohl from the German medical technology industry association BVMed. Currently, 117 projects are supported by the fund, with another 228 under consideration.

Further information: www.tinyurl.com/e-health-law

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