Telehealth – a revolution in health care
Digitalization today controls almost all areas of life. New technologies are also increasingly applied to the health care field. However, the uptake in telehealth in Europe is by no means widespread and varies country to country. This is despite its numerous benefits.
According to an international comparative study completed by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the top countries in the digitalization of health care are Estonia, Denmark, and Spain. In these countries, patients’ medical data are stored in electronic files so that different doctors can have direct access to them. Prescriptions and referrals can also be transmitted quickly digitally. In Estonia and Denmark, patients even have the possibility to look at and manage their own files online. Non-European countries like Canada or Israel also do well: remote diagnoses and treatments over video are considered standard in health care. Other European countries are not quite that progressive: Switzerland, France, Germany, and Poland make up the lower end of the field in the comparative study.1
What benefits does telehealth offer?
Telehealth programs offer the possibility to cross spatial distances. For instance, this way physicians can ensure comprehensive medical care for patients who otherwise would have to travel a long way. In addition, electronic patient files can prevent the prescription of different medications with interactions and thus improve patient safety, health apps contribute to better communication between patient and doctor, and the efficiency and sustainability of the entire health care system is increased.2
The stragglers are catching up
In view of these benefits it is not surprising that the countries at the lower end of the Bertelsmann study are catching up. Take Germany for instance: since the Deutsche Ärztetag in 2018 loosened the professional prohibition of exclusive remote treatment, physicians now have the possibility to treat their patients without personal contact over the phone or the internet. For instance, if you have a cold you can now get a doctor’s note via WhatsApp. To receive a doctor’s note online, you first must complete a form on the internet which asks you about the classic symptoms of a cold. After this, you then communicate with a physician via the messenger service WhatsApp. A short time later, you receive the official note from the doctor in picture form via WhatsApp and a physical copy in the mail a few days later.3
Strategies to promote telehealth
The EU has set itself the goal to ensure the health care of its citizens sustainably and for the long term. Work is to be done in particular on the accessibility to health care services and the medical information infrastructure. User-friendly and efficient digital solutions and electronic services must be created. For this reason, the EU supports numerous telehealth projects.4 But the countries also must contribute actively to the redesign of their health care systems. At the national level, a specific strategy, a political framework, and a coordinating institution must be created to gradually and continually implement the individual digital processes and establish them in the industry.5