The introduction of electronic health cards in Germany has been stalled because doctors are refusing to buy the necessary equipment to read them.

Health insurance companies say that they are ready to roll-out the cards to their 80 million members but will not do so unless doctors and pharmacies install the equipment.

The aim of Germany’s electronic health cards is to improve communications among all sectors of German healthcare providing better data exchange throughout the industry. The cards will initially be used to identify patients and improve the processing of health insurance claims.

Doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and service providers in the health system have a matching professional card allowing them to view the patients’ data when given the patients’ card.

However, the installation of equipment in practices to read the cards is not compulsory and has to be paid at least partly by doctors and institutions. Some are refusing to implement to systems, claims a report in the current issue of the British Medical Journal.

The German health ministry has responded to the delay by saying that it is still confident that all patients will be using the electronic health cards by the end of the year as planned.

But the Liberal Party has announced that it would abandon the project over concerns surrounding data safety, despite a recent poll showing that 75% of the population is not worried about data safety and online transmission.

The new card will replace Germany’s existing health insurance card, which only shows the name, date of birth and the insurance company of the holder. The new health card has a photograph of the user, as well as holding basic health information, such as prescription data. Once introduced the plan is to use the card for more clinical data in the future.

The data can be updated online and if the patient consents additional information, such as history of surgery, doctors letters and information for emergencies can be added.

It also doubles up as a European Health Insurance Card, which replaced E111 form at the beginning of 2006 enabling holders to receive healthcare in other European countries.


Electronic health card trial to begin in Germany