Germany's Digital Agenda reshuffles country's eHealth policy

'eHealth Initiative' replaces IT Gipfel's Arbeitsgruppe 7

Germany's IT policies are being restructured following the creation of the country's Digital Agenda in 2014. The Agenda introduces a so-called 'eHealth Initiative' intended to:

  • enhance networking around eHealth innovations;
  • support measures to improve development and integration of eHealth; and
  • ensure interoperability and security of eHealth IT systems.

The 'eHealth Initiative' replaces the former Working Group 7 –part of the annual National IT Summit. “Despite the changes in the structure of the IT Summit, the eHealth Initiative is supported as an independent working party”, says Nino Mangiapane, Head of Unit at Germany's Federal Ministry of Health and the contact for the eHealth working group at the IT Summit.

The eHealth Initiative involves a series of actions: this includes a telemedicine portal and the integration of innovative eHealth applications in healthcare. The Initiative's first activities build on a study that recommends changes to sectorial and cross-sectorial processes, and proposes interoperability specifications.

Policy Context

The capacity to innovate

Germany's eHealth policies (and others) are being reshuffled following the creation of the country's Digital Agenda. The policies are being integrated in a “comprehensive strategy for guiding and shaping the ongoing process of digitisation”.

Germany's Digital Agenda 2014 - 2017 is focused on three core aims:

  • To further explore and exploit the innovative capacity in the country in order to enable further growth and employment;
  • To support the nationwide expansion of high-speed networks and enhance digital media literacy across all generations in order to improve access and public participation;
  • To improve the security and safety of IT systems and services in order to increase trust among the public and the business sector.

Action lines

Germany's Digital Agenda was adopted in 2014. This main ICT society policy establishes the digital policy approach of the Federal Government. To achieve the above targets, the policy has bundled activities according to seven lines of action.

  • I. Digital infrastructure
  • II. Digital economy and digital jobs
  • III. Public sector innovation
  • IV. Shaping digital lifestyles in society
  • V. Education, research, science, culture and the media
  • VI. Security, protection and trust in society and the economy
  • VII. The European and international context

The Digital Agenda will be implemented in cooperation with economic and social partners, civil society and academia.

The agenda's second measure introduces the so-called 'eHealth Initiative'. The Initiative foresees, first and foremost, enhanced networking around eHealth innovations by the private sector. Secondly, the Initiative intends to ensure the interoperability and security of eHealth IT systems.

The summit at the centre

A central role in implementing the Digital Agenda is given to the IT Gipfel (National IT Summit).

The National IT Summit has been held every year since 2005 and is a central platform for politicians, businesses and scientists. The meetings have helped design Germany's Digital Agenda.

The discussions at the IT Gipfel are arranged in working groups, each named after a specific policy area. That is, until this year.

The Digital Agenda is about to reshuffle all of these working groups. The IT-Gipfel process is changing in order to build new platforms related to the Digital Agenda. The eHealth activities will be redistributed over several platforms, and the former Arbeitsgruppe 7 (Working Group 7) is being revamped as the “eHealth Initiative“.

“Since 2011, Working Group 7 has been delivering results to the IT Summit”, says Mangiapane. “As an independent entity we now continue to act as the eHealth contact for all new platforms.”

The Initiative is managed by the Federal Ministry of Health.

Description of target users and groups

So far, the aim of the working group is to improve healthcare by seizing the opportunities provided by telematics and telemedicine. It achieves this by supporting the development of telemedicine projects. The group includes all organizations that are involved in the subsequent adoption and implementation of standard healthcare, including doctors, health insurance companies, and companies implementing the solutions.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The working group rests on two cornerstones: a study of interoperability barriers and the enhancement of the telemedicine portal.

Unleash interoperability

The first cornerstone – the study – was commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Health. It is a “planning study for solving the challenges of interoperability”. The working group hopes that the study will unleash the potential of eHealth solutions, and, simultaneously, remove interoperability barriers hindering interactions between the approximately 200 different IT systems in Germany's healthcare sector.

The results of the study were presented to the ministry earlier this year and are available online. At the IT Gipfel in Hamburg, the results were discussed with stakeholders and taken into account when deciding the actions of the working group, now known as the 'eHealth Initiative'.

A report from the working group is forthcoming: “The IT Summit presents the progress that the working groups have made since the previous meeting”, explains Mangiapane. “Not every working group has documentation ready, to be made public immediately.”

The study proposes concrete ways to solve the interoperability challenge. These are based on an analysis of the actual situation regarding eHealth systems. The study also takes into account the need for involvement in international eHealth developments as well as the existing structure of the German healthcare system.

The study recommends necessary changes to be made in sectorial and cross-sectorial processes, all available on a wiki website.The report also includes interoperability specifications that can be adapted by users and providers.

Platform fixes scattering of information

The second cornerstone of the eHealth Initiative is the national telemedicine portal. The portal was developed by the Fraunhofer-Fokus Institut, based on specifications provided by the Initiative. The project aims to collate the information that is currently scattered among more than 200 different telemedicine projects. It provides structured access – tailored to the different users - to a body of information.

The re-use of this information aims to kick-start other telemedicine projects, lowering development times and costs. Defining the requirements of the portal involved resolving many issues, such as the inclusion criteria, the semantic and technical standards used, and the authentication and identification concepts. The portal also provides relevant news and events in the field of eHealth.

The work group developed “a criteria catalogue for future telemedicine projects". The list covers a selection of projects to be accelerated to market. This year, members of the work group together identified further ICT applications in healthcare, such as home care. The aim of the Initiative is also to demonstrate, through concrete support, that the potential of ICT applications in healthcare can be realised.

eHealth Initiative action portfolio 2015+

The eHealth Initiative includes a series of future actions of the (now defunct) working group.

  • Facilitate the development of eHealth applications through targeted support, thanks to an enhanced version of the telemedicine portal supporting new services and the criteria catalogue;
  • Facilitate the integration of eHealth applications in the nationwide provision of healthcare by implementing the results of the interoperability study; and
  • Set the ground for actual use of eHealth applications through targeted education and training.

Links

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Lessons learnt

Scope: National

Categorisation

Type of document
General case study

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Documentation
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