Telemedicine: remote healthcare services

The term telemedicine covers a whole range of healthcare services provided at a spatial and, sometimes, temporal distance, for example via telephone, apps or the internet. How can you specifically benefit from telemedicine services?

At a glance

  • Telemedicine makes it possible for patients to receive medical care services without having to travel to a healthcare facility.
  • Telemedicine is especially helpful for providing care to people who are less mobile and live in rural areas.
  • One aspect of telemedicine is remote monitoring of health parameters.
  • Tele-expertise involves doctors sharing and discussing digital X-ray images, for example.
A woman sits on her bed with her laptop open.

Areas of telemedicine

Telemedicine involves a doctor looking at and assessing patients’ medical data via telecommunication. There is no need for both of them to be in the same place. A common appointment at the same time is not always necessarily needed either.

Telemedicine applications also support exchanges between doctors, for example, to exchange findings electronically.

Telemedicine includes, for example:

  • online consultations
  • something known as tele-expertise between doctors
  • digital patient training
  • remote monitoring of medical data such as blood pressure or heart rate

Saving time and resources with telemedicine

Telemedicine solutions have the potential to relieve important areas of the healthcare system. Many of those involved can use telemedicine to save time. Patients don’t have to travel to a healthcare facility.

Telemedicine can also make the processes at medical practices and health insurance providers more efficient. This is especially true when telemedicine systems are seamlessly connected to other digital healthcare solutions.

For example, the virtual visit to the doctor can be automatically documented in the electronic patient record (ePA) straight after the online consultation and any necessary medicine prescribed via an e-prescription. Doctors’ limited consultation hours can be easily extended through telemedicine.

What are electronic health records and the ePA app?

The video below explains the benefits that the electronic health record or ePA for short brings and how data is transferred.

This and other videos can also be found on YouTube

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Other scenarios are also conceivable and some of them are already being used, for example telesurgery, during which a surgeon can operate on a patient remotely with the aid of a robot.

An important step for setting up telemedicine services is the Digital Supply Act (DVG), which was passed by the Federal Parliament in November 2019. Among other things, the law encourages the use of digital health applications (DiGAs), which can be prescribed by doctors.

Telemedicine can help to ensure care

The quality of medical care can be improved through remote monitoring of medical data, for example a patient’s blood sugar levels or heartbeat. This can make life safer, especially for elderly or less mobile patients.

What telemedicine can do and where it can be of assistance: remote control of medical data, overcoming staff shortages, shortening waiting times for arranging medical appointments.

The monitoring of patient data is also referred to as telemonitoring and can sometimes be billed as a telemedicine service. This applies, for instance, to patients who have a defibrillator to assist with arrhythmia or for people with a CRT system used as treatment for severe heart failure (cardiac insufficiency).

Telemedicine can also help to compensate for staff shortages, for example when it comes to adequately supplying rural areas.

Another advantage is that remote diagnoses and treatments can prevent people getting infected during the journey or in the waiting room.

Already available: online consultation

Some doctors offer video consultations. Video service providers that have been tested and certified by the German National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians can be used for this. In particular, the certification also ensures that the applications adequately protect the patients’ data.

Some Associations of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (Kassenärztliche Vereinigungen) have also established their own video consultations, for example “docdirect” from the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians in Baden-Württemberg (KVBW). In addition, some health insurance providers have their own telemedicine solutions on offer. People with private insurance can already consult a doctor via the internet.

Tele-expertise – doctor-to-doctor consultations

Tele-expertise is when doctors use telemedicine services to consult with each other.

Some tele-expertise services have been billable for doctors since 2017. This makes it possible for medical practitioners to digitally transfer X-ray and CT scan images and discuss them over the phone, for example.

Doctor’s visits in the hospital can also be carried out with health professionals joining via telemedicine services. This form of telemedicine not only provides a faster professional exchange, but also makes it possible for diagnoses to be made without further tests. Patients and doctors therefore benefit from this equally.

Digital prevention and online courses

Many forms of medical treatment involving the patient and a doctor or therapist being in direct contact with each other will continue to be provided in the future. However, when it comes to prevention and training, there will increasingly be offers via the internet – some are already available.

The costs for these are partly covered by the health insurance provider. Examples are back schools and weight loss courses. People who are affected by type 2 diabetes mellitus can also already make use of telemedicine support services today.

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