Telemedicine has already established itself in the US, and it may take off in Italy in 2016.
104 billion dollars are saved annually only in the United States thanks to using video conferencing for medical appointments. In fact, about half of the total routine check-ups or small health problems do not require a physical presence of a doctor. This is the conclusion of a study sponsored by Goldman Sachs, a firm that dedicated itself to reintroduction of the so-called e-health or telemedicine.
More resources to invest
This technology saves enormous amounts of money, which can be reinvested in other branches of the health care industry. Besides, video conferencing allows doctors and patients to avoid transfers, therefore optimizes theirs time. Last but not least, thanks to video conferencing doctors can help people who live far away from the nearest medical centre. In other words, it can improve service and at the same time increase resources available to the health system.
USA: rapid growth of virtual appointments
Let’s go back to the United States. If in 2010 the Americans went to a doctor on average 3.3 times per year, now the frequency of visits increased by 400%, with a total of 1.3 billion per year. Half of them, however, have no need of a face-to-face appointment with their doctors. For this reason, the country has already introduced such services as “Doctor on Demand” and “American Well”, which help patients meet their doctors in videoconference via PC, tablet or smartphone.
Health insurance even for Telemedicine
So, the US has already started saving. Since medical care in America is a paid service, video conferencing means significant savings for patients. A doctor in video conferencing costs 40 Euros compared to 200 Euros for a traditional visit. Even health insurers have noticed the trend, so that the United Healthcare, the largest insuring company in the US, has signed an agreement with three video conferencing providers to cover the costs of medical visits carried out at a distance.
Italy is on the way, forecasts are positive
In Italy the new trend is struggling to make its way. Existing initiatives are too few, although there are experiences both of medical care and of high-level trainings for doctors and health workers. After some past optimistic forecasts, contradicted then by the facts, it looks like the scenario will change in 2016. According to the Netics Observatory, the next year will be the year of takeoff for telemedicine services in Italy, from assistance at home to teleconsultation.
New policy of the National Health System
The decisive push in Italy should come from the new policy of the NHS, which is more and more intent on penalizing inappropriate hospital admissions and delayed hospital discharges. The savings are considerable: a patient admitted to a virtual department – that means assisted by telemedicine – costs the National Health Service from 140 to 260 Euros per day, much less than hospitalization. Moreover, the virtual hospitalization allows to maintain the same quality of the service. So, the development of e-health is different in each country, but the situation in Italy may soon change. Of course, traditional medical visits will never be replaced by virtual ones in cases of diseases when the presence of a doctor is indispensable. But in those cases – and they are many – when doctors can work remotely, the rapid adoption of assistance in videoconference can bring huge private and public savings.