By Frank Reuter, REUTER Consulting.
Telemedical consultation, which may also be referred to as telemedicine or telehealth consultation, focuses on providing patients with the best possible telephonic advice, independent of the location the caller is in. This method of advice is already common in the United Kingdom and Switzerland and is gaining international momentum. The use of telemedical providers plays an essential role for national health care systems, and leads to reduction of loss ratios for health insurance companies, while at the same time offering the patient an alternative to seeing a physician. This method is especially advantageous for the expatriate and business traveller, both of whom generally have limited access to the quality of medical care that they are accustomed to.
Telemedical consultation plays an equally important role when it comes to minimizing time of absence of an employee, since a medical situation may possibly be resolved telephonically, instead of physically visiting a doctor’s office. Switzerland is a prominent example for the use of telemedical consultation providers. The small country, which is dominated by multiple languages and various nationalities, is a prime model for how those systems could work for expatriates stationed across the globe. Approximately seventy five per cent of Switzerland’s population utilize a “round-the-clock access” to providers via the simple communication tool the “telephone” . Only a few other Western European countries offer similar services. However, there are numerous initiatives undertaken by authorities, hospitals or networks of medical specialists in order to implement cost efficient alternatives to tend to treatment of patients. Foreign Ministries of Health as well as insurance companies tailoring to international clients, i.e. expatriates and business travellers, are expressing increased interest in the positive results seen in the Swiss system. In today’s society, where time and convenience play an ever important role, patients crave for quick and simple solutions.
Unlimited 24/7 platforms which allow access to medical consultation without having to leave their home or office, and avoiding a long wait in a crowded doctor’s office, is for many, an enhanced method for receiving medical advice. It must be noted that telephonic consultation will not replace necessary doctor visits but in many cases it is a first step in assessing whether a personal visit is necessary, and can provide guidance on which next steps are required to resolve a certain medical condition. The Swiss provider Medi24 clearly shows the interest of employers, insurances and many individuals towards this type of medical consultation. Beginning with this innovative solution in 1999 the provider is currently averaging a call volume of 3.000 per 24hrs which is managed with its integrated team of nurses and physicians . As mentioned above, telephonic consultation is not able to replace compulsory visits to a doctor and necessary annual check-ups. However, studies show that 70 per cent of the population fail to assess the urgency of their medical problem or condition. The majority of patients visit a physician even though their medical situation may not require an in-person consultation. Many general inquiries can be solved by having access to a 24/7 telephonic medical consultation platform. In Switzerland the most frequent reasons for utilizing the platforms are to discuss questions regarding medication, fevers, coughs, sore throats or abdominal pain.
In most instances these conditions do not require an immediate personal medical consultation. By using a reputable provider, nurses and physicians are able to recommend further proceedings for the patient; in two thirds of the cases self-treatment is a viable possibility . Avoiding unnecessary visits to a physician lead to a vast savings potential for insurances considering that cost for such visits usually amount to 100 € and to over 500 € for an emergency department consultation. At the same time the patient can remain at home or more importantly at work; a positive situation for any employer. The overall objective is to place health responsibility in the hands of the individual, hence strengthening one’s individual health awareness . Telemedical consultation requires the trust and acceptance of the patient and data protection must be ensured at all costs. Quality standards are the basis for keeping medical data confidential. Standardized procedures, qualified personnel and comprehensive documentation are the measure for success of any telemedical consultation providers. The Swiss example is that of a trend taking place and while companies are beginning to follow the example of providers like Medi24 it remains imperative that clients familiarize themselves with the various qualifications of different providers. Please contact us at Reuter Consulting for further advice on how to choose a suitable company.
Frank Reuter is an independent consulting professional with extensive experience in the Travel Assistance Industry. Frank has worked for renowned assistance companies such as International SOS and Allianz Global Assistance.
1 "Telefontriage und medizinische Beratung via Telefon – integrale Bestandteile der Grundversorgung“ by Dr. Andrea Vincenzo Braga; 2011
2 Medi24 Company information, 2011
3 Selbsteinweisung ins Spital“ Flaig et al.; Primary Care 2/2002
4 Call evaluation Medi24; 2010
5 Telemedizinische Konsultation schont Ressourcen by“ Dr. Andrea Vincenzo Braga; 2010
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