Does telemedicine work the same way all over the world? In a sense, yes. A large part of virtual care’s value is that it can connect any patient to any provider anywhere across the globe. We’ve seen it firsthand in our deployments in Argentina, Ireland, Ghana, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, and other countries.
At the same time, some regions have specific challenges – and specific rewards. Some nations face barriers to Internet access, known as the Digital Divide. Other regions need to overcome distrust of new care delivery models. Then there’s Europe, which is especially interesting because its telemedicine challenges and potential rewards come from the same place.
Some European patients can travel to neighboring countries to visit a specific clinical expert or access a certain kind of care. But it isn’t always easy for them to do so. Healthcare leaders believe telemedicine can transcend those barriers to drive stronger population health across Europe, using cross-border virtual programs, broader data exchange, and smarter medical research.
Yet each nation makes its own decisions on choosing platforms, reimbursing virtual services or incorporating telemedicine into its national healthcare system. That can make it difficult to standardize regulations and technologies across Europe – and make it tougher to realize virtual care’s most profound benefits.
Telemedicine’s Expanding European Presence
Telehealth adoption has been uneven in the European market. A study by research2guidance noted, “there are countries like UK and Switzerland that support telehealth solutions and others like Belgium that don’t.” At HIMSS EU, we noticed the providers who visited our booth were from a variety of countries, with questions that reflected a variety of experience levels. Some were already using connected care to better serve their patients while others were still investigating its clinical benefits.
That diversity lines up with the results of the European Union Commission’s 2018 Market Study on Telemedicine, which examined the ways virtual care is transforming healthcare outcomes across Europe. While the report addressed challenges in each nation, it concluded that current telemedicine results suggested “stable demand, potential, and commitment to invest in this area” and predicted that the market potential is “expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14% in the coming years.”
The report also noted several ways European healthcare leaders and governments are using telemedicine:
- Overcoming barriers to care. Access to healthcare can vary across nations, depending on healthcare systems and patient location. A patient who can’t get a timely appointment in England, for instance, may use telemedicine for a consult with a French surgeon. A patient with a rare condition in rural Switzerland can virtually connect with the nearest specialist in Geneva.
- Supporting incentives to reduce carbon footprints. The European Union has committed to multiple initiatives to address climate change, namely in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and becoming a low-carbon economy. Reducing transportation to medical facilities can play an important role in these efforts.
- Reducing non-communicable diseases. In Europe and other areas, the World Health Organization (WHO) has established the target goal of a 25 percent reduction in risk of premature mortality from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases by 2025. Leaders are using virtual care programs to help patients manage chronic conditions, reduce hospital admissions and improve clinical outcomes.
- Bringing care to an aging patient base. One in four Europeans is over 60. Seniors often need frequent and intensive medical care, yet mobility and economic challenges can make it difficult for them to attend office visits. Many leaders believe better-connected care options can help older patients receive more thorough and convenient care.
Collaborating for a Healthier Future
It’s an exciting time to be a healthcare innovator in Europe. Government and healthcare leaders are working toward better interoperability and compatibility between their technologies and standards as they map the path toward large-scale telemedicine collaboration across borders. Once achieved, integrated virtual programs can help create larger data pools for research into breakthrough treatments. Patients everywhere will have faster access to more advanced care while providers can contribute to a healthier era across multiple nations. Not every European country has fully explored telemedicine’s potential yet – but as more providers embrace it, that day is fast approaching.