Telemedicine has clear benefits for patients in European countries, new study finds
Telemedicine technologies have been beneficial for the screening, diagnosis, management, treatment and long-term follow-up of a range of chronic diseases in the WHO European Region, according to a new study by the WHO/Europe and the Faculty of Health Sciences Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, a WHO Collaborating Center in eHealth.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, countries have relied heavily on digital technologies to continue delivering essential health services to patients. The use of telemedicine was already considered an accessible and cost-effective approach to providing high quality care and reducing overall morbidity and mortality. To get an overview of the current state of telemedicine in Europe and Central Asia, the authors reviewed data from more than 20,000 studies conducted in the 53 countries of the Region and involving more than 20,000 registered patients. .
Barriers to telemedicine delivery
“We found that the use of digital tools to deliver health services had a clear and significant effect on patients,” says Dr. David Novillo-Ortiz, regional adviser on data and digital health and lead author of the study. “We saw better clinical outcomes, better follow-up by healthcare professionals, and overall benefit for patients and healthcare workers.”
At the same time, the study also revealed barriers related to users, technology and infrastructure.
“These include poor or poor internet access, resistance from health workers, gaps in their technological knowledge, heavy workloads or insufficient training,” added Dr Novillo- Ortiz. The study found that some patients showed resistance to the use of telemedicine, mainly due to their preference for personal contact with healthcare professionals.
Holistic approaches needed for telemedicine interventions
The study calls for the design of comprehensive approaches to telemedicine in the Region.
“Based on these positive results showing how effective telemedicine can be, policy makers should consider promoting their widespread implementation, while recognizing and addressing some of these barriers, so that the benefits for the health of these tools are available to all who need them,” said Dr Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, Director for Country Health Policy and Systems at WHO/Europe and one of the co-authors of the study.
In addition to specific barriers, the paper notes that “poorer nations should also be included to benefit from emerging health technologies.”
Policy initiatives include the Regional Digital Health Action Plan 2023-2030
WHO/Europe and the European Commission have launched initiatives to develop and implement telemedicine through various policies, including the regional digital health action plan for 2023-2030 which was endorsed by ministers Health at the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in September.
The plan states that digital health solutions, including telemedicine, can help advance universal health coverage, protect the public in emergencies, and improve health and well-being in the Region.
Other initiatives focusing on the implementation of telemedicine include the Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe funding programs and the European Reference Networks.
These initiatives and policies recognize not only the power of telemedicine to eliminate geographic barriers and expand access to health services, but also the need for mechanisms to mitigate barriers and risks.