Germany Tests Electronic Health Data Card

DUSSELDORF, GERMANY -- T-Systems International GmbH, the IT services arm of Deutsche Telekom AG, is collaborating with a German health care and insurance group to test electronic health cards ahead of a government mandate to introduce the technology next year.

The pilot, launched on Monday, involves three doctors' offices, 50 customers of the health care group Bundesknappschaft and one of the group's own hospitals in Bottrop, Germany.

The primary goal of the project is to test the acceptance of several new electronic systems: an electronic health card, which contains a chip for storing personal data about the patient in addition to some medical data for emergency purposes; an electronic patient file, which is an application for processing and storing medical data on a server either directly in the hospital or in a data center outside; and a health professional card, which gives doctors and other authorized personnel access to the electronic patient files.

T-Systems has decided to move ahead with the pilot even though government IT officials have yet to finalize standards for the various systems, and doctors and health insurance companies have yet to agree on where and how patient files will be electronically stored, according to Volker Apel, health care project director at T-Systems. "Our solution is based on the current specifications," he said. "With the pilot, we want to move beyond academic discussions to show people how the technology can work in the field."

For the pilot, the participating insured patients are issued electronic health cards, and the physicians are given electronic professional cards. In the doctor's office, patients and physicians must insert their chip cards into write-and-read stations and enter their PIN (personal identification number). Only authorized physicians have access to patients' data. The same procedure applies for both patients and doctors in the Bottrop hospital.

Moreover, because the health professional card includes the physician's signature, which is saved on the chip, doctors can also sign prescriptions electronically. T-System issues the signatures via its own T-Telesec-Trustcenter.

In the first quarter of 2006, T-Systems and the Bundesknappschaft aim to equip 20,000 insured patients and 75 physicians with the new electronic cards.

Beginning next year, German states plan to launch public tenders to purchase technology for its state-owned facilities, according to Apel. T-Systems will be one of several IT service providers expected to place bids.

Even though the electronic card project is scheduled to begin next year, it is expected to take several years before all country's 70 million-plus health insurance customers have cards.
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