Tele-medicine improves patient care

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Numerous pilot projects have confirmed that tele-medicine brings benefits for healthcare providers, insurers and patients – particularly reduced costs – and although risks and obstacles remain, the environment for tele-medicine is set to improve in the coming years, writes Dr. Uwe Perlitz from Deutsche Bank Research in a March paper.

The following is a contribution by Dr. Uwe Perlitz. 

''Tele-medicine has existed for over 25 years. Since the early 1980s information and communication technology (ICT) has increasingly also been used for tele-medicine, that is the provision of medical services using technology that bridges the gap between different physical locations.

Scandinavia leads the way in Europe, due in large part to low population and doctor densities. Germany occupies a lower middle ranking among the eight most important tele-medicine countries, because the German healthcare system is in many respects not yet suited to the use of tele-medicine and the doctor density is high by international standards.

Tele-medicine helps save money. Tele-medicine can be more efficient than traditional methods of treatment. The technology provides users with greater comfort and convenience. 'Long-distance therapy' can often make doctor's visits or hospital stays unnecessary and allow drug treatment to be adjusted more quickly to the patient's condition.

There are still risks and implementation obstacles to be overcome. One obstacle to its nationwide use in Germany is the fragmentation of the tele-medicine market. In addition, many doctors are sceptical because they believe tele-medicine poses a threat to exercising their duty of care towards the patient.

The status quo will change. In the coming years there will be a shift in the status quo in favour of tele-medicine. As the population ages the number of chronically ill patients will rise. Many such patients are ideal candidates for the use of tele-medicine.

The onward march is unstoppable. All in all, tele-medicine turnover in Europe will probably grow by an average of 10% p.a. between 2006 and 2020, whereas health expenditure will rise only half as fast.

Impact on care provision structure. The outpatient sector could see its workload expand as demand for inpatient care declines. This is also suggested by the increase in the number of medical treatment centres providing integrated care whose personnel make them well suited to providing tele-medicine services.''

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