In spring 2021, the University for Continuing Education Krems, in cooperation with the public medical universities of Graz, Innsbruck, Vienna and Linz, surveyed students of human medicine on the topic of digitalization in medical care. This interdisciplinary project sheds light on the perspective of junior doctors and provides insights into their attitudes and experiences, but also into the opportunities and risks they see in telemedical applications.
Over the last few months, the value of digitization has become increasingly clear due to the COVID 19 pandemic - especially for physicians. The importance of telemedical care for patients has grown. In case where physical contact is restricted, information and communication technologies can be used to access services of the health care system. In addition, telemedicine creates the possibility of diagnosis and therapy when the doctor and patient are at a distance in terms of time and space. This offers future opportunities, particularly for rural areas, and can help to ensure the provision of comprehensive medical care. While artificial intelligence has long been used in the healthcare sector, digitization, for example in telemedical care, is not yet advanced. This not only concerns Austria, but also numerous other European countries.
The inter-university survey sheds light on the opinions of future physicians, who will be more and more facing digital applications in the future. In the centre of the project stands the question: What do young doctors see as the opportunities and challenges of their work? What does the digitalization of medical care mean to them? And which telemedical possibilities show great potential for all participants?
Taking a look at the future of the profession
More than one-third of the students surveyed discuss the future of their profession at least often with their fellow students. Most discussions revolve around the topics of training and the expected working conditions. The students surveyed were particularly interested in the choice of specialty and the advantages and disadvantages of this decision. When asked whether they would like to become a general practitioner or a specialist, large differences are apparent: 54 percent aspire to become specialists, only 5 percent would like to work as general practitioners. Nevertheless, some 23 percent can imagine training in both fields. Considering that the number of general practitioners has been declining for years, telemedical care is likely to become increasingly important in the future.
Potentials and challenges
A good three-quarters (77 percent) of the students surveyed believe that telemedicine is going to become more important in the future. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be driving this acceleration, as more than half of the respondents now indicate that they talk about telemedicine more often. Looking into the future of future junior doctors, 38 percent assume that telemedicine will become part of their everyday professional life. Yet 44 percent are not sure at this point. The survey also suggests that for many, personal contact with patients is important.
Topics of particular interest include the limits and possibilities of telemedicine, the practical implementation and legal framework, but also the care of (elderly) patients. The young physicians see potential in exchanging information swiftly with colleagues, maintaining the system in times of crisis, and caring for patients in rural areas. Potential challenges for telemedicine application are seen in legal issues - especially data protection - practical/technical implementation, and regarding the relationship based on trust between physicians and their patients.
About the Telemed Monitor Young Physicians
The online survey was conducted by the Research Lab Society in Transition of the University of Continuing Education Krems (Christina Hainzl, Isabella Juen,). Cooperation partners of the inter-university project are the Medical University of Graz (Prof Andrea Siebenhofer-Kroitzsch), Medical University of Innsbruck (Vice-Rector Prof Peter Loidl), Medical University of Vienna (Assoc. Prof Kathryn Hoffmann), Medical University of Linz (Florian Stummer). 660 students participated in the survey.
The Telemed Monitor Austria is an annual study conducted by the University for Continuing Education Krems. It attempts to trace the development of telemedical services, to generate comparable data by repeating the study annually and to address current issues. The first Telemed Monitor 2020, conducted in cooperation with the Austrian Medical Association, dealt with the acceptance of telemedicine among physicians in private practice. The second Telemed Monitor 2021 surveyed medical students on the topic and will be repeated at regular intervals.