Will it be possible to continue with medical teleconsultations when the pandemic ends?

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The pandemic caused by covid-19 is favoring the implementation of digital solutions in many sectors with unprecedented speed and impact, especially in health care.

In this extreme crisis scenario, the rapid adoption of advanced technological tools has played an important role in responding to the high pressures of health systems.

Thus, they have become the necessary clinical practice to provide care both to patients with covid-19 safely and to routine primary care. These tools have prevented people requiring health services from physically attending in many countries.

Online consultations in post-pandemic times

As the pandemic progresses, expectations for how health care can be delivered are changing. Now there is an opportunity to redesign our system of care.

Teleconsultations, as synchronous as asynchronous, represent a new relational model with health professionals, more practical for users and more efficient for the health system.

However, despite the fact that health care services can be largely guaranteed remotely through digital technologies, this change has yet to be fully consolidated. In fact, we do not yet know what role telehealth will play in future health care delivery.

Given this reality, it is logical to ask ourselves what will happen once the pandemic ends, if this type of medical consultation will be maintained or will we return to the beginning, with the presence fully established.

To answer this question, one strategy would be to do it from two perspectives. On the one hand, from the supply side, that is, from the health professionals. On the other, from the demand, that is, the patients.

From the perspective of health professionals

Here we should first ask ourselves what has motivated them to carry out medical consultations online during the confinement imposed by the pandemic and, second, see if these reasons have enough weight to continue using them when the health crisis ends.

With this, it will be possible to know if the pandemic has changed the factors that have prompted them to use this type of medical consultation or, on the contrary, they have perceived this use as exceptional and their preferences are more in line with returning to the situation prior to the pandemic.

In this context, a recent study has tried to find out the use of the ‘eConsultation’ by healthcare professionals.

The ‘eConsulta’ is a web tool that allows the citizens of Catalonia to make health inquiries online to medical and nursing professionals, in an asynchronous and bidirectional way.

It also makes it possible to carry out administrative procedures (such as requesting the update of the current medication plan) and send documents (such as clinical reports, diagnoses and results of clinical analyzes or tests that will later become part of the patient’s medical history).

The results showed that the majority of health professionals are satisfied with this working mechanism and plan to incorporate it into their practices beyond the pandemic. This has been thanks to the benefits perceived by the use of the tool.

But also, although to a lesser extent, the pressure exerted by co-workers, the patients themselves or the institution itself. In other words, the fact that some colleagues positively evaluate the tool or that patients have easy access to it influences the intention to use it.

On the other hand, the experience of using technological tools (both in professional and personal life) is also configured as a variable that shows a direct relationship on the intention to use telehealth tools after covid-19.

What do patients think about telemedicine?

In a second study that was carried out on the same tool, this time from the perspective of patients, it was observed that the pandemic had contributed to socialize the use of medical consultations online.

As a result of the health crisis, we find ourselves with a younger profile, without chronic diseases and who have had the need to use teleconsultations to contact health services or receive results of tests carried out. Taking into account that the study was carried out on the total population that uses the tool, it shows with reliable data a change in the trend in its use.

In short, several studies have already indicated that this type of medical consultation reduces face-to-face visits with low added value.

The data provide evidence in favor of its efficiency from the perspective of the healthcare provider. Thus, the main benefit is that it allows direct attention to be focused on those that require physical contact.

This should reduce waiting lists and optimize health services. In addition, we would find the benefits derived from the empowerment of that part of the population that makes active use of these tools.

But for this it is necessary to socialize the use of this tool to the entire population, thus promoting the digital demand for medical care by patients, so that no one is excluded.

Everything suggests that when the pandemic ends it will be possible to continue in a similar way as we are doing now. However, it is necessary to establish the relationships of complementarity between what drives its use by the parties involved. That is, health professionals, on the one hand, and patients on the other, with the possibilities and scope of these renewed consultations.

It is worth taking advantage of the momentum that the current crisis has given us to finish implementing them.

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