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E-health services, such as electronic patient records and e-prescriptions, are provided on a voluntary basis. Their acceptance depends to a large extent on trustworthiness and convenience. Digital data protection and security measures are therefore essential, but the solutions must also offer a high level of convenience and performance. These apparent contradictions are, in fact, compatible.
As in many other areas of society, the coronavirus has further accelerated the adoption of digital solutions in the healthcare sector. According to a McKinsey survey from August 2020, over two-thirds of Germans are more open now to using digital health services than they were before the pandemic. About one-third have already booked a doctor’s appointment online, and two-thirds welcome the introduction of new digital products and services, such as the electronic patient record (ePA) or the electronic prescription (e-prescription), which should be available nationwide starting in October 2021.

Therefore, the basic prerequisite for the acceptance and success of these innovations is whether they offer real added value for both patients and service providers. The main focus here is on increasing efficiency and quality: Health data that can be accessed at any time enables faster, more effective care as well as more targeted research. Specifically, it can prevent unnecessary multiple examinations and facilitate the prescription of proper medication in emergency situations.

Patients expect a high level of convenience and availability

Convenience and performance play a central role in e-health solutions: Users want fast and stable apps that make their everyday lives easier. However, a lack of convenience and disruptions or failures have quickly led to frustration and loss of trust in some cases.

This can be seen, for example, in the hastily set up portals for making appointments for the coronavirus vaccination, some of which temporarily collapsed under enormous strain. It must be possible to flexibly scale and protect such critical services against overloads.

Creating trust through IT security and data protection

However, convenience and performance alone will not help e-health solutions achieve a broad-based breakthrough. Ensuring a high level of data protection and security is an absolute must. According to the “Datapuls 2021” study on the digitization of the healthcare system, nearly 40 percent of Germans are concerned about the data security of e-health solutions. So there is still a lot of persuading to be done here.

The necessary level of trust is created by ensuring transparency and the best possible level of IT security. Sensitive patient data needs to be protected using state-of-the-art security measures as well as crisis and emergency plans to prepare for any IT security incidents that may arise.

Cyber incidents are now a fact of life in the health sector

According to the latest Allianz Risk Barometer, cyber incidents represent the greatest risk in the healthcare sector, together with pandemic outbreaks. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of politically or criminally motivated cyber attacks on the health sector has increased significantly, as is shown by mitigation data from Myra Security and reports by Interpol, the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), and the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI).

Are convenience and data security at odds with each other?

Despite the constant onslaught of cyber threats, data protection is often perceived as an obstacle in digital innovation. However, anyone who puts convenience above data protection should expect serious consequences. In mid-March 2021, the security loopholes in service provider software used at coronavirus test centers made headlines. No fewer than 136,000 test results were leaked onto the Internet, including such personal data as name, address, date of birth, citizenship, and ID number.

The disclosure of health data can have far-reaching negative consequences in the social and professional environment for affected data subjects. In the worst-case scenario, inadequate data security can even endanger lives, for example, if critical health data is not immediately made available in emergency situations resulting from a cyber incident or it has been maliciously manipulated.

Such incidents can permanently damage trust in e-health solutions. In addition, there is a risk of high fines in the event of data protection violations. For offenses, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides for fines that can run up to 20 million euros or four percent of annual global revenues, whichever is higher.

The opportunity to combine data security and convenience

The requirements for data protection and IT security are particularly high for health data and thus also for e-health solutions. Many companies in the health sector find it difficult to comply with the increasingly demanding requirements. There is a huge opportunity here: If convenience can be combined with certified data security, the level of acceptance of e-health products and services can be boosted.

Contrary to popular belief, data protection and security are very compatible with performance and convenience. However, this requires expertise and resources that are more likely to be found at specialist service providers. There is, therefore, a clear trend towards such managed service providers on the market. The resources that are invested here can pay off severalfold in terms of achieving broader acceptance for e-health solutions and internal resource savings.

Ideally, the provider delivers a complete package that combines certified data security, maximum performance, and minimal implementation and operation effort. Security, data protection, performance, and convenience go hand in hand.

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