Telemedicine: What do doctors think about it?

Tele medical care taken as chance and challenge to cope with the autumn

19/10/2020

In cooperation with the Austrian Medical Association Danube University Krems conducted the study Telemed Monitor Austria in which physicians in private practice were interviewed and asked for their attitude towards telemedicine. The results obtained shall help to promote the potential of telemedicine and to identify existing obstacles in order to find suitable countermeasures.

Particularly at the beginning of autumn and winter, the current development of infection figures again poses a challenge for medical care. What patients think of tele medical care has already been surveyed several times. Looking back on the experiences of spring 2020, the Research Lab Society in Transition, in cooperation with the Austrian Medical Association, conducted a survey among physicians in private practice to identify how well accepted telemedicine is in Austria. This first Telemed Monitor interviewed physicians on the potential and challenges of tele medical care in private practice. "Telemedicine is a model for the future, and the Federal Curia of Physicians in Private Practice of the Austrian Medical Association has therefore already had the increased and qualified use of tele medical services on its agenda for years. The Corona crisis has accelerated the development of telemedicine enormously. Now it is a matter of ensuring controlled and high-quality further development," says Dr. Johannes Steinhart, 2nd Vice President of the Austrian Medical Association.

Help in challenging times

According to the tenor of the physicians surveyed, telemedicine is able to support medical care in general, especially in difficult times such as the COVID 19 pandemic. In concrete terms, the results show that 61 per cent of the physicians believe that there is “very great” or “great” potential for tele medical care of patients in challenging times, while 57 per cent recognize this potential under normal conditions. From the physicians' perspective, the acceptance of patients for tele medical care via phone is estimated to be very high (52 per cent) or high (32 per cent). In contrast, the acceptance of digital care via e-mail, chat or video call by patients is much less positive. Here, the high level of acceptance is only 28 per cent, while it is high for 30 per cent of those surveyed. During the pandemic, the phone was the primary channel of communication with patients: 93 per cent of doctors communicated with their patients on the phone, almost half (47 per cent) via e-mail and 15 per cent on video.

Improvement in quality and efficiency of care

According to physicians there are three fields in which the biggest potential for tele medical services lies in the future: maintaining the system during a pandemic or minimizing the risk of infection (77 per cent), caring for patients at a greater distance (68 per cent), especially in rural areas, and improving communication with colleagues (38 per cent).

Telemedicine not barrier-free

The topic of accessibility in tele medical services is often mentioned, both positively and negatively. Tele medical care is advantageous for people with disabilities, but turns out to be a disadvantage when it comes to linguistic barriers, hearing problems and a lack of technical resources on the patient's side. Eight out of ten physicians consider that there are major barriers, particularly in the case of older people, regarding affinity for technology and the varying quality of technical equipment. Barriers do not only refer to obstacles for patients, but also pose challenges for physicians. Barriers especially build up for them because the tele medical consultation does not involve direct personal contact, no personal examination is made, and also facial expressions and gestures are hardly or differently perceptible. 

Outstanding legal issues

"Digitalization has permeated many areas of life, and the question is not only whether tele medical services will be expanded, but above all how they can be expanded and applied," says Christina Hainzl, Head of the Research Lab Democracy and Society in Transition. Doctors consider the development of guidelines and standards, quality assurance and a discussion on the limits of this form of care to be important.

Physicians face three major challenges in tele medical care in the administrative-legal area: for around three quarters (78 per cent) legal questions remain unresolved, for example concerning liability. Difficulties with billing models were cited by 60 per cent, and half (51 per cent) of those surveyed described compliance with data protection as a challenge. 

In general, applying tele medical consultation depends on the specific situation. The way in which physicians can offer tele medical care naturally varies among the different disciplines. "If the approval rate for the use of telemedicine in the field of psychiatry is 71 per cent, the figure falls to 48 per cent for pediatrics, and to 28 percent for gynecology and obstetrics," said study author Isabella Juen.  

About the Telemed Monitor

The Telemed Monitor Austria is an annual study conducted by Danube University Krems attempting to trace the development of tele medical services, to generate comparable data by repeating the study annually and to address current issues. A thematic focus will be given every year. 

Please find further information on the results of the Telemed Monitor Austria and a report on it under www.telemedmonitor.at.

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