Telemedicine

Telemedicine has gained importance during the COVID-19 Pandemic

It is now possible to have an appointment with your doctor via a phone call, an email, an app, or a video call, without having to travel and remaining in a safe environment, and it is an option increasingly chosen by users. In addition, in many cases, it can present advantages for medical teams and patients by providing greater flexibility and responsiveness, especially with so many physical restrictions in place.
Telemedicine has also enabled easier access to medical services, especially among those sections of the population with greater access to technology, since, regardless of geographical distance, they can have access to a consultation at a distance, through computerized means, ensuring that some necessary health care and follow-up are provided.
According to the National Health Service (figure 1), in December 2020, there was an increase of 216% in Telemedicine appointments (+5,188 teleconsultations), when compared to the same period in 2019.

 

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Figura 1 – Telemedicine consultations - Monthly Data, December 2020 vs December 2019
(https://www.sns.gov.pt/monitorizacao-do-sns/consultas-em-telemedicina/)

 

How is Telemedicine impacting patients and healthcare providers?

As one of the fastest-growing areas of the health industry, Telemedicine responds to a number of challenges faced by healthcare services. Despite its limitations and the fact that it does not entirely replace face-to-face care, it has many advantages:

    1. Convenience and improved accessibility to a wide scope of health care services

Every user can have access to consultations, as long as they have the necessary technological means to do so. Whether it's in a rural setting, where access to health care and health professionals is limited, or in an urban setting, where people's lifestyles limit their availability to access health care in person. Telemedicine also allows patients with chronic diseases to be in permanent contact with their doctor and/or clinical team, allowing them to communicate essential information for the monitoring of their disease in real-time.

    2. Cost-efficiency

Telemedicine is also cost-efficient as it reduces costs both for the user and for insurers and employers. For example, it can limit unnecessary visits to emergency rooms and in-person consultations for conditions such as a cold, through triage or diagnostic protocols. It is also time-efficient as it reduces the time spent traveling or waiting for a face-to-face consultation, which can be an added value for the user, but also for employers.

    3. Increased engagement with the user

Another advantage of Telemedicine is the expected increase in user engagement, even in a post-pandemic context - be it through the sharing of symptoms and medical information, or through greater commitment to attend appointments and scheduled exams.

What is the future role of Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is being rapidly adopted in healthcare, and there are many clues into how this new technological advancement will unfold:

    1. Telemedicine will become a standard in healthcare, and its availability will determine whether patients choose a certain healthcare provider

Human beings are creatures of habit. Access to some medical care in a simple, fast and safe way may become the new norm, gradually replacing the face-to-face consultation system, which requires patients to go to the hospital or clinic. Telemedicine has rapidly become a part of the current health care systems and its importance will continue to grow.

    2. Telemedicine still has limitations, but it holds enormous potential

Telemedicine has limitations, particularly in chronic disease management, medication management, postoperative surveillance, evaluation of diagnostic tests, and clarifying doubts. However, its role may become increasingly broader, in areas such as remote monitoring of clients' clinical status or as an integral part of precision medicine, which aims to tailor health care to the individual characteristics of each patient.

    3. Optimization of hospital wait times and faster response

With Telemedicine, it becomes easier to include several specialists in the same appointment, depending on the needs identified in the consultation, thus promoting a more immediate response.
Telemedicine will continue growing and should be increasingly adopted by medical institutions and insurers. In the United States of America, for example, these services have had exponential growth in the last 5 years and are expected to be worth more than 130 billion dollars (109 billion euros) by 2025. It is important to promote patients’ literacy and ensure access to Telemedicine. However, we should not underestimate the continuous importance of face-to-face healthcare.

In the context of Digital Health, we launched the Future Healthcare Virtual Clinic, as a response to the emerging needs for video consultations in healthcare.
Future Healthcare Virtual Clinics’ virtual consultation is offered via a native digital platform. This integrated platform allows patients to plan the whole process - from booking the appointment to the video call itself.
Through the Future Healthcare Virtual Clinic, it is now possible for customers to access a range of medical, psychological, nutritional, or physical activity specialists wherever they are, in a safe and convenient way.