Why do I need a new electronic health card?
The quality of medical care also depends on whether or not your doctor has access to all necessary medical information. The electronic health card and the 'electronic network' (telematics infrastructure) that is being rolled out in the health care system will give all care providers involved swift and secure electronic access to the data they need. Issuing the eHealth card constitutes the first step. The aim is to enhance health care quality, strengthen the patients' role and, as an added bonus, lower costs.
How and when will I get my electronic health card?
The statutory health insurance funds have been issuing electronic health cards with the holder's photograph since October 2011. By the end of 2012, approx. 50 million members of the statutory health insurance had received a new eHealth card. The health insurance cards will only continue valid for a limited transitional period; the exact date from which only eHealth cards will be valid has yet to be specified.
Will there be any changes when I go see my doctor?
For patients going to see their doctor, everything will be just the same. The eHealth card is read in just like the health insurance card. For that to work smoothly, doctors, dentists and hospitals have been equipped with modern card readers paid for by the health insurance funds.
Why do I have to send a photo to my health insurance fund?
Unlike the health insurance card, the front of the eHealth card bears the holder's picture. The only exceptions are children under the age of 15 and insurance members unable to have their picture taken, such as immobile nursing home residents. Providing a photograph for the eHealth card is among the insurance members’ duties to co-operate, unless one of the foregoing exemptions applies.
The photo helps to avoid mix-ups and control the misuse of benefits and services. By doing so, the photo helps to save costs. The health insurance funds ask their members in writing to supply a photograph. Many health insurance funds encourage their members to directly upload the photo. Moreover, some health insurance funds give their membership the opportunity to have their picture taken at their local office.
What can the new eHealth card do?
The applications of the new eHealth card are being phased in gradually. First of all, the administrative data of the insured persons, such as name, date of birth and address as well as health insurance details, such as health insurance number and insurance status (member, co-insured dependent or pensioner) will be stored on it. A new feature compared to the health insurance card is the category 'gender'. As an extra safeguard in addition to the photo, it is meant to avoid mix-ups. The back of the eHealth card can be used for the "European health insurance card" that allows unbureaucratic access to medical care across Europe.
Current data prevents misuse
Next, it is envisaged to match the insured person's master data stored on the eHealth card on-line against the current data held by the health insurance fund. This allows changes which the insured person has already reported to their health insurance fund, such as a change of address, to be automatically updated on the eHealth card with a single keystroke when they next see their doctor. The health insurance funds save costs, because they need not issue new cards. Moreover, cards that are invalid, lost or reported stolen can be spotted more easily than before. This helps to further reduce card misuse at the expense of the community of the insured. Thanks to a current eHealth card, the data in the doctor's surgery software is always up to date without the doctor having to enter changes by hand.
Secure electronic communication from doctor to doctor
The most common form of communication between doctors today is snail mail. Frequently, therefore, not every care provider involved in treatment has prompt access to important information. When the discharge letter does eventually arrive at the surgery, it must be laboriously digitised for the data to be transferred to the practice management system. This is why doctors have long been demanding that the prerequisites be put in place for findings and results to be swiftly and securely shared among medical professionals and held in a digital form. The organisations of the self-administration responsible for the introduction of the eHealth card are already preparing for their implementation.
Life-saving in an emergency
In an emergency, the patient’s life can depend on whether or not the doctor has access to information on, say, any pre-existing conditions or allergies they might have. The next planned step, therefore, is to give the insured the option to have such information stored as emergency data on the eHealth card if they so wish. This will enable doctors and EMS personnel to access it in an emergency even, as the situation may be, without need for the patient's active co-operation.
What are the patient's choices regarding medical applications?
The eHealth cards being issued are prepared to be equipped with additional medical applications. These applications can - if desired - be gradually added online without the need to replace the card. For them to be adopted, though, they must pass field tests and meet stringent security rules. In addition to the emergency data, other candidates for future applications might be medication history, vaccination history or an electronic medical record.
When the time comes, every insured person will get to decide for themselves whether and to what extent they wish to make use of the novel options provided by the eHealth card. They can also decide whether and to what extent they wish to use an application such as the emergency data and whether or not they wish to use the card to register as organ donors. Moreover, patients can have access to their data, have it printed out and even deleted. Only storage of the administrative data of the insured persons will be mandatory - here the eHealth card is no different from the traditional health insurance card.
How secure is my data?
Data protection and practicality are top priorities and are ensured through statutory and technological safeguards. Data access is only permitted for care provision purposes. Only authorised health care providers can access the data. For this purpose, they are issued with a separate ID card (health professional card). Third parties, such as insurance companies, have no access. Any misuse will be prosecuted. For reasons of traceability, the most recent 50 access events will be logged on the card. The advantage that the eHealth card has over the health insurance card lies in the fact that it contains a microprocessor and works like a mini computer. This makes it possible to encode sensitive health information and shield it from unauthorised access. Medical information stored on the card can only be decoded and read if the patient and their doctor agree. For them to do so, the patient must insert their eHealth card and the authorised doctor their electronic health professional card. Then, the patient must agree to their medical data being accessed by entering their PIN. An exception is emergency data which, while requiring a health professional card, can be accessed without patients entering their PIN to allow for the exceptional circumstances of emergencies.
Three good reasons for the eHealth Card
- Better quality of health care through better information
- Enhanced data protection and patient self-determination
- More efficiency and less paperwork