Study shows benefits of telemedicine technology for patients internationally

A new study conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in collaboration with the Faculty of Health Sciences at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya has shown that telemedicine technology has been beneficial to the screening, diagnosis, management treatment and long-term follow-up of chronic diseases.

The study explained that during the COVID pandemic, several countries had begun to rely on digital methods to continue to provide healthcare to their patients. Telemedicine had already been seen as an accessible and cost-effective approach to delivering care. To gain a better understanding of telemedicine, the authors looked at data from over 20,000 studies from the 53 countries in the European Region.

Explaining the findings, lead author and Regional Advisor for Data and Digital Health Dr David Novillo-Ortiz said, “We saw better clinical outcomes, better follow-up by health professionals and an overall benefit for both patients and health workers.”

The study also found some barriers relating to users, technology, and infrastructure. Dr Novillo-Ortiz added, “These include lack of or poor internet access, health worker resistance, shortcomings in their knowledge of technology, heavy workloads, or insufficient training.” In addition, the study found that some patients showed resistance to telemedicine, primarily due to their preference for personal contact with health professionals.

The study highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach to telemedicine in the region. It noted that “poorer nations should also be included to benefit from emerging health technologies.”

Dr Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, a co-author on the study, commented: “Based on these positive results showing how effective telemedicine can be, policy-makers should consider promoting their widespread implementation, while also recognising and addressing some of these barriers, so that the health benefits of these tools are available to all who need them.”

The WHO have now launched initiatives to further the implementation of telemedicine following this study, the most notable being the Regional Digital Health Action Plan for 2023–2030. This plan explains how digital health solutions, including telemedicine, can be used to contribute to advancing universal health coverage and continue to protect the public in emergencies.

These initiatives and policies, as the WHO explained, “recognise not only the power of telemedicine to break down geographical barriers and expand access to health services but also the need for mechanisms to mitigate barriers and risks.”