Cold? In Germany you can get your sick leave via WhatsApp

Sometimes you're just too tired to drag yourself to the doctor with a cold. But if the employer requires a sick leave, patients have no choice. It is a convenient new service for those who are too sick to go to work, but do not have a serious sickness: Via WhatsApp you can get the sick leave without going to the doctor. The so-called telemedicine is a new boom industry and can facilitate human's life.

A start-up in Hamburg created the new WhatsApp service just before Christmas. The Service was made possible by relaxing the so-called ban on remote treatment in 2018 - i.e. diagnosis by telephone or Internet. Also, on the website people from whole Germany can use a digital service to get a sick leave. AU-Schein guarantees that patients will be served by a doctor on duty, whose German license they have checked beforehand. Patients will receive the name and further information about the doctor in his answer via WhatsApp. It is only possible to get a tele-sick-leave twice a year - in order to prevent abuse. The sick leave is valid for a maximum of five days and three days retroactive. Patients have to answer some questions beforehand, pay nine euros and would get their certificate. Questions include, whether you suffer from high fever or nausea. Those who suffer from the typical symptoms after the completed analysis will then receive a sick note from a doctor with whom the start-up cooperates. Those who have hard fever or belong to a risk group do not get the yellow bill from the service. It applies to legally and privately insured patients from all over Germany and even from vacation, who thereby save their entitlement to vacation.

A smart solution for both sides, especially in rural regions

According to experts, “E-Health” on the first hand can help to improve medical care in rural regions in particular. On the second hand, for employers it is an easy check to see in the early morning that his employee is sick. Telemedicine saves time and resources and is location-independent. Even long distances can be covered quickly and easily without travel and waiting time. The technical requirements such as a smartphone or a computer equipped with a camera are present in most households, as is an adequate Internet connection. And on the third hand it relieves the doctors. The reason for the many visits to the doctor by Germans are in the most time certificates: Figures vary between ten and 18 visits per head on an annual average. That is why experts demanded a relaxation of the regulations.

In view of the threat of a shortage of doctors in the countryside, the private hospital group Rhön-Klinikum also wants to enter telemedicine. The Lower Franconian company wants to set up a joint venture with the Swiss telemedicine provider Medgate, which will offer digital visits to doctors via video, telephone and smartphone app. Germany has so far been regarded as a developing country when it comes to telemedicine. It is at the pulse of time with research. Digitalization is also bringing change in medicine. "The potential in Germany is huge," explains Medgate CEO Andy Fischer. The majority of doctors in rural areas are of advanced age, so the need for advice via mobile phone or computer will increase in the coming years.

By the way: almost nowhere is the lack of doctors as great as in prisons. There, too, prisons now rely on telemedicine.

Telemedicine permitted and loosened since last year

Telemedicine is a relatively new type of infrastructure that has many smart advantages for patients and doctors. Since 2018, telemedicine has been permitted in almost all German federal states in individual cases, and in Schleswig-Holstein even systematically. In addition, colds are harmless and can be diagnosed well by asking questions alone. Therefore, of course, you have to know your body well and answer the questions carefully to not underestimate your sickness. But the fear that the risk of misdiagnosis would be much higher than with a medical practitioner is unfounded. A detailed catalogue of questions sorts out cases of doubt.

Experts at the University of Magdeburg even recommend self-illness without a doctor for up to one week in all cases, as experience from Norway has been positive and has not led to increased sick leave or blueprints. In Norway, the number of days absent has been declining for years. The doctors at Magdeburg University see this as a role model for Germany. "In Germany, we should think about relaxing the rules for sick leave," says Wolfram Herrmann, head of the Magdeburg research team. This would relieve the burden on family doctors. And at the same time, it would strengthen the personal responsibility of the employees.

Critiques about data protection and acceptance

Nevertheless, the Hamburg Medical Association is skeptical about the new offer: Chamber President Pedram Emami told the that he, as a doctor, finds it problematic not to see a patient in person before handing out a sick leave. It calls into question the traditional relationship between doctor and patient. The legal department of the Medical Association is currently reviewing the business model. The focus is on data protection and the question of whether employers and health insurers accept this form of sick report at all. Hamburg’s company founder Can Ansay says there is no problem with data protection, the communication is with a doctor, including personal data and a photo of the insurance card - then takes place via the encrypted messenger service and thus also complies with the basic data protection regulation. The sick certificates would also have to be recognized by the insurance companies, even if they were issued by a private physician without a health insurance license.

The 9€-service-fee is currently being revised. AU-Schein is currently trying to conclude contracts with health insurance companies, so that patients do not have to pay anything. Telemedicine seems to be a convenient infrastructure and a new step in our daily digital life. All in all, E-Health offers an economical and time-saving solution.