Telemedicine is much more than simple online medical care, it is the provision and management of medical services at a distance and in an integrated way. This has been a growing trend for years in developed countries, although it has accelerated with covid-19 as an agile, necessary and innovative response, given that with hospitals on the brink of collapse, and the spread of the coronavirus totally uncontrolled, go to a medical consultation turned into a real odyssey.
According to research published by Consalud.es, only in Spain during 2020 its use increased by 153%, and most of the queries made by users were related to covid-19. In our country, and to cite a colored fact, the word “Coronavirus” was the most searched on Google throughout 2020, where questions related to symptoms and vaccines also increased. However, these trends deepened by the pandemic contrast with a health architecture typical of the twentieth century. In Argentina, “electronic health” has been legal since 2012 and in 2018 a National Telehealth plan was presented, but it was not until the outbreak of the pandemic that its growth became exponential.
Beyond this complex situation, the use of telemedicine is valuable not only in times of crisis like the one we are witnessing. Its correct application allows the assistance of people who live in rural areas or far from assistance centers, and it is even an effective solution for those places with few medical professionals and / or lack of specialists (recurring situation in Argentina).
From the implementation of full-time telemedicine, the doors are opened to endless opportunities. In times of the “old normality”, it was frequent to visit Buenos Aires for medical consultations from the interior (“because God is everywhere, but he attends in Buenos Aires), now a doctor from a rural area, or from a city small, you could discuss a patient’s scan with a specialist from another province. A person with diabetes can monitor their blood sugar in real time and send the data to their healthcare provider, or even a special device can detect cancer remotely via smartphone in less than an hour, and the test costs less than two liters of gasoline.
The technology put at the service of the citizenry will make it possible to improve the quality of public health policies. Among the different benefits that it generates we can name: 1) shorten waiting lists and help reserve appointments; 2) improve preventive medicine, facilitating communication between the patient and the doctor, and 3) generate 360º traceability of the follow-up with the unique and digital medical record; 4) optimize the relationships between doctors, patients and providers, reducing waiting times. And 5) improve access to diagnoses and treatments, regardless of geographical distances or social conditions..
For all these reasons, the need for States to advance in the incorporation of telemedicine as an effective tool of health policy is substantive. However, we must take into account several issues for telemedicine to truly be an efficient, inclusive, safe and effective answer. Given that the consultations that are managed are always given by means of a video, it is necessary that both the doctor and the patient are equipped with smartphones, and especially a good internet connection is needed (another challenge is the advancement of the telecommunications and the laying of fiber optics beyond General Paz).
It is also necessary to advance, effectively, in a regulatory framework that takes care of and guarantees the private information of citizens. How will the controls for compliance with the privacy of citizens be carried out? How far should technology advance? Because there are many reasons for its use but there are many dangers to which no one can give an answer for sure.
(@Maxicamposrios), specialist in administration and public policy (UBA – Georgetown).