Note: This article is based on my webinar for the US Commercial Service in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Germany is the world’s second largest healthcare market – spending € 374bln annually. The country features a world-class healthcare system, solid healthcare financing with reserves of € 35bln and close to 100% health coverage for its population. Yet, the healthcare industry has one of the lowest digitization levels in the German economy. This is expected to change.

1. The country is completing its information exchange infrastructure.

15 years ago, Germany has started developing a secure close network to exchange health information – the Health Telematics Infrastructure (HTI). Said to be the largest IT project in the world, the HTI will enable all healthcare providers to exchange information. This includes 210,000 outpatient centers, 2,000 hospitals, 1,200 rehab clinics, 21,500 pharmacies and 160 health insurance firms. Further, at an individual level, all citizens and health professionals will receive an eCard to share and access information.

The focus has shifted from building the HTI to using it in a meaningful way – based on  the country’s first ever eHealth legislation.

2. The eHealth Act has introduced first digital health applications

The eHealth Act has passed responsibility to physicians and vendors to facilitate access to health information, introduce new digital applications and empower the patients. It has set specific milestones for using digital health services – albeit quite rudimentary.

Use cases include Teleradiology for a second opinion, remote consultation, digital transmission of physician letters and the eMedication plan. It further aims at developing the technical framework to prepare the introduction of EHRs through the HTI.

3. A nation-wide drive for digitization under the new government

Germany’s current government came in power last September. It established its first ever Secretary of State for Digitization and Jens Spahn, the Minister of Health (pictured) is an outspoken supporter of digital health applications. Three strategic targets have attracted the attention of the digital community: Outpatient care in rural areas will be improved, nursing care will be digitized and digitization as such is named as a strategic goal.

The government pledges to expand the HTI, introduce EHRs by 2022, clarify reimbursement for digital health and review legislation that hinders digitization.

All of this is expected to lift some burdens and barriers for eHealth adoption in Germany.

Germany, as Europe’s largest market, has a lot of catching up to do to raise health digitization from now 36 to 44 index points by 2020. The political agenda and the public opinion are supporting a more competitive and free healthcare market and stakeholders are expecting that eHealth adoption will gain speed.