Telemedicine is only just starting out

The coronavirus pandemic has given a huge boost to telemedicine in Germany. In other countries, however, video appointments and other “remote” services have long since been part of regular healthcare.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given a tremendous boost to digital appointments and treatment of patients in Germany, according to the latest “Health Interactions” survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Before the corona pandemic began, just 8 percent of surveyed physicians who have their own practices or work in hospitals offered virtual appointments to patients. Since the virus entered the picture, the number has climbed to 25 percent.

Video-conference appointments with patients have grown significantly, jumping from 6 percent before COVID-19 to 36 percent today. Overall, physicians expect that the percentage of patient appointments conducted on all digital channels will double over the next 12 months to 18 months compared with pre-pandemic levels. In contrast, patient monitoring apps play hardly any role in patient communications at just 7 percent.

On the other hand, 62 percent of respondents expressed great interest in the use of such apps in the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize patient care has generated an extensive amount of interest among doctors who have their own practices and hospital physicians (67 percent). The physicians cited two main problems standing in the way of an expansion of virtual interaction with patients: the lack of human contact during the diagnostic phase of their work (84 percent) and patients’ inability to work with digital tools (82 percent).

More “tele” outside Germany

How does telemedicine work outside Germany? At the request of the Bertelsmann Foundation, empirica, a society for communications and technology research based in Bonn, Germany, analyzed the use of telemedicine in 17 countries. The results showed that Germany had yet to reach a consensus on the way that telemedicine could improve regular healthcare.

On the other hand, long-distance care and diagnosis are a fixed component of healthcare planning and general treatment concepts in Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden. In contrast to digital appointments between a physician and a patient, teleconsultation – that is, a digital doctor-to-doctor meeting held to do such things as discuss a patient’s diagnostic findings – is much more widely used than video appointments. These services may be billed in six countries. Pilot projects are being conducted in Italy and Portugal.

On the other hand, long-distance monitoring of patients, things like checking their vital signs with wearables for seniors and individuals suffering from chronic illnesses, is part of general healthcare only in the Netherlands. Germany, Denmark, Italy, Canada and Spain are only conducting projects in this area and are implementing very little.

Knowledge base

Bertelsmann Foundation: The use of telemedicine – a country-by-country overview

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC): Health interactions