The New Normal of Online ConsultationsBy Ricardo Moguel | Wed, 09/01/2021 - 09:17
Although telehealth (using technology to exchange valid information for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention, research and evaluation of illnesses) has been evolving into a common practice, we must recall that, in fact, it is not a relatively new discipline. It was approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) at least five years ago, when it was deemed “one of the greatest innovations in health services.” The WHO lauded its potential to offer universal health coverage, as well as more efficient services, due to the internet's capability to overcome time and space limitations.
Today, amid a health emergency and the highest contagion peaks on record for over a year in Mexico, we have been able to recognize and appreciate the value of quality care and follow-up of chronic illnesses from afar, without the need to abandon treatments or interrupting communications with health professionals.
Technology and medicine have always moved hand in hand but, today, we know that it is a reality that is available to us and we can use the advantages offered by tools such as online consultations: patients don't have to go to the doctor's office, while doctors are able to “reach” other countries or inaccessible areas and see their patients on screen, which in turn generates time and money savings both for the specialist and the patient.
Another major advantage of online consultations is avoiding self-diagnosis and self-medicating, as it is safer and more convenient for the patients to book an appointment and keep an online consultation with a certified professional than searching the web for their symptoms and how to cure them.
Numbers support this new reality. Doctoralia, a health platform connecting doctors and patients, launched the online consultation modality in March 2020. During that month 1,611 consultations took place and, although the evolution of this modality was still uncertain back then, it soon proved its efficiency. Experience demonstrated that in 70 percent of cases, the specialist could clinically detect what a patient requires through a virtual medium. As a result, online consultations on this platform have grown exponentially. In just over a year since its launch, there have been more than 600,000 appointments for online consultations.
On the other hand, doctors are just as interested in these types of consultations. In April 2021, the Asociación de Internet MX (MX Internet Association, or AIMX) published the results from the First Study on Digital Habits of the Medical Community in Mexico, showing that 16 percent of private doctors already perform virtual consultations and the decisions they make (medication adjustments, prescriptions) do not differ greatly from the those taken during one-on-one consultations.
Despite the positive aspects of online consultations and their boom during the pandemic, there are still some challenges to overcome and gain full acceptance. Firstly, overcoming patient mistrust and doctors who doubt the efficiency of the consultations and who believe auscultation is essential in every case. There are other reasons stated by health professionals who reject virtual consultations, as stated in the AIMX study: collecting their fees is an issue, they are concerned about confidentiality, they don't have the necessary technological infrastructure and patients prefer in-person consultations.
Implications and all, it is still proven that online care is effective and, in a world where technology is moving forward rapidly, is here to stay. This is true not only in Mexico but in the rest of the world as well. In a poll conducted by Deloitte among 1,800 doctors and nurses in different countries from the European Union, almost 65 percent said that their organization has increased the adoption of digital technologies (especially since the pandemic began), both to support the way doctors work and to provide virtual assistance and channels to reach out to patients.
Before COVID-19, Deloitte estimated that it would take three to four years for a more widespread adoption of virtual care. As the virus spread and concern for safety increased, virtual health technologies became an essential part of healthcare, allowing doctors and patients to stay in touch through videoconferences, telephone calls, text messages and emails when confinement hindered face-to-face consultations.
Today, healthcare workers strive to digitize their services, maximizing transaction systems as well as protecting the safety and privacy of medical records. It all points to online consultations being the norm for countless types of clinical interactions, even after the pandemic is over. And few will refrain from investing in them.