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Telemedicine is slowly being accepted

Telemedicine is slowly being accepted

Photo: Doctor checking a patient's blood pressure

Trips to the doctor when you live in the country are getting longer and longer while the patients are getting older and older. “The demographic development virtually forces the increased use of telemedicine“, says Wolfgang Loos. The Managing Director of the board of the German Society for Telemedicine (DGTelemed) points out that 2010 was a very important year for telemedicine.

“The German Medical Association Annual Conference in Dresden last year was a milestone“, Loos continues. “Among other things, a catalog of Telemedicine guidelines was developed there.“ The criteria illustrate what constitutes good telemedicine. The conclusion: the actual need for telemedicine models has to be defined by the physicians themselves. The physicians and not technology therefore need to be able to determine what kinds of telemedicine applications are needed.

Increasing acceptance by doctors

The medical community will certainly also show more openness in the future towards the benefits of telematics: a study by the German Medical Association in August 2010 showed that 73 percent of physicians recognize the importance of telemedicine in general and if anything would ascribe advantages over disadvantages to it. According to the study, the previous, in parts very controversial discussions for the most part referred to the electronic health insurance card. It is viewed as the symbol for the unpopular health care policy and is perceived as a threat to the role of physicians in private practice.

However, when asked during the inquiry about individual, practical applications, many were said to have positive comments. The majority of physicians for example were said to have described the electronic emergency data storage, the electronic physician’s letter, the electronic drug assessment as well as the electronic patient record as a “large improvement“.

Photo: Doctor with thumb up 
Many physicians also see the
benefits of telemedicine;
PengGuang Chen

That said, the acceptance of telematics within the medical community is quite unevenly distributed: hospital physicians practically no longer reject telematics. Those physicians in private practice however not only show low rates of approval, but 20 percent of these doctors generally are against telematics applications.

Patients appreciate telemedicine

Despite the approval of many aspects, according to the trial findings the worry about data protection continues. What’s more, many physicians fear that they might be faced with high costs and that the doctor-patient relationship might suffer.

Loos would like us to consider this: “All patients that have already experienced telemedicine applications have positive things to say throughout.“ Like for instance if experts that are not on-site diagnosed stroke patients via video consultation. “All patients that have been treated this way emphasized that without the use of teleconsulting they would either be dead or at least disabled“, he adds.

The area of telemonitoring also appears to have gained strong acceptance: for patients with diabetes or heart failure, there is the possibility to communicate blood sugar or blood pressure levels through telemedicine applications to a service center. If these values are not OK, you can then react immediately. Either the patient receives a call to have him/her consult with his family doctor or the emergency physician is immediately and directly informed. “Patients oftentimes don’t notice a decline in their levels so well. Telemonitoring can fix this“, Loos explains. “Patients who are being treated like this unanimously confirm that they now feel a lot safer. Many talk of a completely different attitude towards life.“


Photo: Hemodynamometer

From being the exception to being the rule

According to Wolfgang Loos it is particularly important for the upcoming future to accept telemedicine into standard health care provision and thus into the list of covered services by German statutory health insurance providers. “Even first attempts in this direction are still imposed with questionable conditions“, says Loos. Even though teleconsulting for strokes has been settled at 1,000 Euros via an index number since January 2011, the high demands placed on it however have already led to protests. “To be able to bill these services, it was specified that consulting physicians have to be available 24/7 at the Telestroke Centers and at the same time have to be completely exempt from any other duties and responsibilities“, Loos explains. “In a normal day-to-day work life this can almost not be accomplished.“ These conditions are likely to make it difficult for smaller networks in particular to lay claim to the index number.

That’s why among other things at the 2nd National Telemedicine Congress on November 3 - 4, 2011 in Berlin, the focus will be on what needs to be done to completely incorporate telemedicine into the guidelines. “It has to find its way into the guidelines at long last“, says Loos. ”We hope that this congress will be able to make a crucial contribution to accomplish this.“

Nadine Lormis

(Translated by Elena O'Meara)


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