Picking up medicines by cell phone or health card – the paperless prescription started today in two model regions. Everyone should be able to benefit from it by spring 2023. This is how the e-prescription works.

Where’s my prescription? The search for the pink note in trousers, coat, wallet or handbag could soon be a thing of the past – the electronic prescription should replace the paperwork.

The prerequisite for participation is that the practices, clinics and pharmacies have the necessary software updates in their management systems. Some time ago, the official app for the electronic prescription (e-prescription) was made available for free download in the Apple and Google app stores.

Download: You can download the “E-Recipe” app free of charge and virus-checked for Android and iOS from CHIP.

Pharmacies throughout Germany have been obliged to accept digital prescriptions since September 1st. For the time being, however, this obligation does not apply to doctors.

A three-stage plan currently envisages that medical practices and hospitals in Westphalia-Lippe first introduce the e-prescription across the board. This means that not all doctors will issue the e-prescription from September 1st. All other people with statutory health insurance will continue to receive the pink prescription for the time being. According to the plan, the introduction of the e-prescription should be completed nationwide by spring 2023.

Patients have three options to redeem e-prescriptions in the pharmacy:

The e-prescription only applies to those with statutory health insurance, who have received around 500 million paper prescriptions in Germany to date. If you want to use the e-prescription, you have to identify yourself in the e-prescription app using the health insurance code.

How does the e-prescription actually work?

If you have a smartphone, you first download the free e-prescription app. The app was developed by Gematik, which is responsible for the telematics infrastructure in Germany. The Federal Ministry of Health is the main shareholder of this company.

If you have the app on your smartphone, the doctor no longer prescribes a specific medication on paper, but digitally. “You get a special code on your mobile app,” explains consumer advocate Wolter. You can show it yourself in the pharmacy or you can send it to someone in order to have the medicine delivered to you. For all of this to work, the smartphone must support the NFC transmission standard and have at least iOS 14 or Android 7 as the operating system.

An electronic health card with NFC function is also required. This can be seen from the six-digit access number under the Germany colors on the map. You also need the card’s PIN number. If you don’t have your PIN, ask your health insurance company.

If you can’t log in to the app with your health card – either because your smartphone doesn’t meet the requirements or you don’t have the card PIN to hand – you can only use it in a slimmed-down way: to scan the prescription code from the printout in the doctor’s office, use it save it in the app and show it to the pharmacy on your smartphone. The added value of this functionality alone is rather tenuous.

Generally good to know: E-prescriptions can also be redeemed in mail-order pharmacies. Billing is done as before: directly between the pharmacy and the statutory health insurance company.

What do I do if I don’t even have a smartphone?

The code is then printed out on paper in practice – this option is still available and is also necessary if you have the app but are not registered there with your health card and therefore have to scan the code as described above.

The printed code can be read in the pharmacy just like the digital one. So if you don’t have a smartphone, you won’t be excluded.

As an alternative to the mobile phone, the electronic health card should also be able to be used to pick up medication from pharmacies.

What advantages should the e-prescription bring for me?

Ideally, it should save you a lot of work. “Basically, a patient can go home or to work from the doctor, search for a pharmacy in the app and make a non-binding inquiry as to whether the drug is available,” explains Wolter. This gives patients the option of only ordering if a medicine is in stock.

If the pharmacy offers a courier service, they may bring the medication to you in the evening. The consumer advocate expects messenger services from pharmacies with e-prescriptions to become even more established.

Anyone who needs a follow-up prescription, for example in the case of chronic illnesses, can possibly avoid going to the doctor with the e-prescription. If the doctor knows the patient and their medical history, a phone call is all it takes. “If someone is not walking well or doesn’t want to leave the house, the doctor can prescribe a drug on one call and send an e-prescription,” says ABDA President Overwiening.

In addition, information on intake and dosage as well as the medication plan can be stored on the app. According to consumer advocate Wolter, a desired effect of this is: “The pharmacist sees what medicines the patient is already taking and notices if something is not compatible.”

What about privately insured people?

The blue prescription for privately insured people will continue to be available in paper form even after the introduction of the e-prescription. “People with private insurance should also have access to e-prescriptions in the future,” says consumer advocate Wolter. According to the ABDA, concepts for user-friendly billing are still being developed here. At present, privately insured people have to pay in advance at the pharmacy and then settle the prescription with their health insurance company.

The situation is similar when people with statutory health insurance receive alternative medicines that do not require a prescription. Some of these can later be submitted to the health insurance company. Here, too, doctors continue to issue a green paper prescription.

Do patients with an e-prescription app have to go to the doctor for every new prescription?

Not in all cases. “If you already had a pre-prescription and you need a follow-up prescription in the same quarter, you can also have this transferred via the e-prescription app,” says Sabine Wolter.

If doctors offer video consultations, the e-prescription can also be sent to the app without a visit to the practice.

Can I use the e-prescription app to pick up medication for family members?

The app can also be used to redeem prescriptions for family members, children or neighbors who find it too difficult to go to the pharmacy. The health card and the PIN of the respective person are required for this. The corresponding data is added to the app.

If relatives receive a printed e-prescription, the prescription code can be scanned in their own app and then presented to the pharmacy.

An e-prescription cannot be redeemed more than once. “Once an ordinance has been supplied, it is also blocked,” says Anke Rüdinger. A real advantage of e-prescriptions is that they are forgery-proof and the potential for abuse is lower than with previous prescriptions. In addition, double trips to the doctor should be eliminated, for example because the signature on the prescription was forgotten.