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Covid is a game changer for Tele-Medicine

In many Countries the Covid emergency is fostering the growth of telemedicine. In the graphics the sudden explosion of tele-consultation in France, 15 folds in just one month. Data source: French National Insurance

I already touched upon the boost given to activities from “remote” by the lock.down first and the social distancing. Tele-working and tele-education are obvious examples.

Healthcare, on the other hand, would seem to be a “hands-on” activity. True, we have been talking about tele-medicine, tele-diagnoses, even tele-surgery for quite a while and we do have plenty of examples that it can work. However, so far both medical doctors and would-be patients have been suspicious of the “lack of presence”. Technology, nevertheless, has progressed and a variety of options are available for both remote monitoring and sensing and for consultancy. The almost ubiquitous availability of smartphones and internet connectivity, and the familiarity with these devices and services, has made video-communications part of people’s life.

What the pandemic did was to trigger their use, as the less evil between risking a contagion and having a not so satisfactory consultation.

As shown in the graphic, tele-consultation in France increased fifteen folds in just one month, in Italy family doctors moved to remote electronic prescriptions and call centres for tele-diagnoses (to evaluate symptoms vs Covid suspicions) have been quickly established and they worked (still works) pretty well.

In the US Medicare had 0.1% of tele-consultations in February 2020, during the pandemic it rose to 44%. Private insures reported 16 millions tele-health claims versus 500,000 recorded in 2019.

An important point that is emerging is that the elderly population in the US seemed less ready to shift to tele-health, in spite of being the one that would benefit most from it. This points to the need of a cultural shift that the pandemic has enforced on people but that might have not been fully “digested”.
The long term outcome might depend on the length of the pandemic. If it will continue for one more year, let’s hope not, it is most likely that the enforced shift will become part of a new culture fully assimilated by people. If, on the contrary, the old normal will be restored soon than many people (and doctors) will try to go back to the pre-epidemic processes. Personally, at least looking at Italy, I feel that the changes are irreversible. Something will go back to the old way of delivering healthcare but a significant part will stick to the new way and that part over time will be fostering adoption also by those that decided to go back to the old way.

Add to this that technology will keep advancing and delivering better and better way to monitor, sense and connect. The pandemic is accelerating a change that is going to happen anyway.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.