Intended for healthcare professionals


What will it take for Germany to embrace digital health?

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 11 August 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m2828
  1. Helen Albert, freelance journalist
  1. Berlin, Germany
  1. scicom.hla{at}

Germany has long resisted digitisation, but could a new law and the covid-19 pandemic ease that attitude? Helen Albert reports.

Germans are not fast adopters of digital technology. With a fondness for using cash and low uptake of social media compared with most countries, they fiercely guard their right to control how personal information, including health records, is shared.1 When the independent foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung compiled an index measuring 17 countries’ progress in healthcare digitisation in 2019, Germany ranked second from the bottom (the UK came sixth).2

But 2020 is proving a time of change. Jörg Debatin, chairman of the Health Innovation Hub at the German Federal Ministry of Health. says that more than 100 000 German physicians signed up to video platforms within eight weeks over March and April when the country went into lockdown—and are using these platforms extensively. “I cannot imagine it going away, because people like it and want it,” he says.

“Technology has been available for a while, but both in Germany and in other places we're seeing that doctors are now using it because they have to,” says Daniel Nathrath, chief executive officer of Ada Health, a digital health firm with offices in Germany, US, and UK. “Many stakeholders are realising that digital solutions can make their life and their patient's lives better.”

The Digital Healthcare Act

Germany had been trying for more than a decade to introduce a centralised national electronic patient file without success. That struggle has exacerbated a lack of trust and little enthusiasm for digital health innovation.

“If you consider that Germany has been trying for more than 15 years to introduce a national electronic patient file, and so far without success, then I think the [reason why we’ve struggled] is clear,” says Peter Gocke, chief digital officer at the Charité University Hospital …

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