New impetus for telemedicine

The act on the improvement of care structures in statutory health insurance (GKV-VStG) which came into force on 1st January 2012 is intended to ensure medical care in rural areas. One of the planned measures is the promotion of telemedicine.

The term "telemedicine" is still not defined in German law.
© Siemens Medical Solutions

The act on the improvement of care structures in statutory health insurance (GKV-VStG) came into force on 1st January 2012. The purpose of the act is to ensure and improve medical care in rural areas. On the one hand, this is to be done by supporting doctors who open practices in rural areas. On the other hand, there are approaches in the act that should pave the way for telemedicine and a networked health infrastructure.

Legislation prescribes a review of telemedicine

Telemedicine will therefore increasingly come into play explicitly as a treatment option, and its potentials explored. The text of the law also stipulates the next steps: in the new Paragraph 87 of the Fifth Social Code, the Gemeinsamer Bundesausschuss (GBA) (Federal Joint Committee) is instructed to check by no later than 31st October 2012 to what extent out-patient telemedical services can be provided. On this basis, the GBA is to decide by 31st March 2013 to what extent the uniform assessment standard for medical services must be amended.

Definition of telemedicine still not available

The wording gives no reason to expect that it will come to regulated reimbursement of telemedicine services immediately after the deadline. Nevertheless, the prescribed, specific involvement of the GBA with the subject will give new impetus and may eliminate possible ambiguities.

The term "telemedicine" is still not defined in law. What services does this category contain? Who may provide the corresponding services? What is the treatment method and what is the transmission technology? A reference to care is also missing. Here too, the use of innovative technology, such as telemonitoring, can also help in practice.

An improved networking of the healthcare system offers great potentials for the quality and efficiency of medical treatment. With a low density of doctors in rural areas, necessary technical or specialist treatment or chronic illnesses, the application of e-health-and telemedical components can significantly improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment and aftercare. This involves not only technical systems, but also concepts for the integration of technology and services, the optimisation of work processes and better organisation of cooperation.

Development of remuneration models overdue

The law is going in the right direction from the point of view of the ZVEI and provides an important impetus. This must nevertheless be pursued consistently. The non-binding examination provided for in the act must be followed by the development of remuneration models for services and technical systems. German companies are well positioned internationally in the appropriate technologies. The demographic trend is opening up new markets and can become an engine for economic growth and employment. It requires a political framework which guarantees planning reliability and transparency. The ZVEI will offer the GBA its support in the review, and together with its member companies make proposals for an amendment of the uniform assessment standard.

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