German AI researchers push for harmonized data protection rules

By staff writers

June 17, 2022 -- German radiology sees uncoordinated federal data protection regulations as the greatest obstacle to successful digitization and networking in the German healthcare system, noted the German Röntgen Society (DRG) in a statement on its website.

AI systems are getting better in terms of meaningfulness, but this requires large amounts of data, such as can be generated through cooperation between the national radiological networks, the DRG stated. Such scientific cooperation is made considerably more difficult in Germany, however, due to restrictive and highly variable interpretation of data protection regulations across the country which delays both the implementation of cross-sector health services research and the introduction and testing of innovative AI applications, delegates heard at the DRG's 103rd congress, 25 to 27 May.

"This is the main obstacle to the future security of image-supported German medicine," commented Prof. Dr. Joachim Lotz chair of the Conference of Chairholders in Radiology in Germany (KLR e.V.), in the statement, who also spoke at the meeting. "In order to be able to process joint data sets, projects must be checked in each individual federal state and then again in each individual participating institution - often with very different outcomes. This significantly hampers university and cross-sectoral health research compared to other European and non-European countries," he noted.

Innovative and future-oriented applications of digitization and AI often require a connection to common data pools in which the data can be securely managed and analyzed. The variable and uncoordinated data protection policy of each individual federal state as well as the individual interpretation of the data protection regulations at the local hospitals significantly impedes and delays access to such data pools -- and thus also the implementation of digitization and maximum security, standardized data access in the German healthcare system, the DRG noted.

"In the near future, however, we must find a coordinated way to set up a binding data protection agreement for digital, data-driven research. This applies not only, but especially to medical imaging," Lotz noted.

Harmonizing the diversity of decisions across the federal states would increase the efficiency of patient care, accelerate the benefits of digitization, and enable scientific compatibility for European and international comparison, the DRG stated.

Editor's note: To read the original DRG press release published in German online by the DRG, go to the DRG website.

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