Digital Services – A brave new World

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Antonio Guevara Lopez, a third-year medical student at the Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. He is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

               The Covid-19 pandemic has been impacting our World and the way we use technology in great depth, with unprecedented changes in society. The approach to the pandemic crisis was potentiated by technological resources that facilitated the detection, surveillance, and impact mitigation strategies of the infection.

               At the same time, the need to follow the health guidelines challenged traditional relationship models between a doctor and patient, accelerating the transition to new digital paradigms of care delivery, with the implementation of telehealth solutions.

Telehealth  comprises the use of information and communication technologies to remotely support health in its different aspects. It is not a novelty nor an epiphany but it constantly suffers from an undervaluation compared to traditional forms of doctor-patient contact. Notwithstanding the consistent growth in volume, scope and applicability (to other health areas) and the added value provided by promoting access to health care, telehealth has always found greater acceptance in medical specialties that are more based on diagnostic imaging such as dermatology.

On the other hand, it often bumps into regulatory obstacles, commercial and even individual ones (such as prejudices and myths) that have spoilt its implementation

and made it neglected comparatively to the conventional way of caring. Often, it is seen the inability to understand that telemedicine is not a new kind of medicine, but only a new way to interact that can be complementary and synergistic with the already existing ones. The purpose is the patient and it will always be, why can’t we see a different perspective?

It is almost ironic that a virus and all its tolls – the mandatory physical distance, the fear of being contaminated –  provided a unique combination for an acceptance and compliance of telehealth by patients, professionals, institutions. This unique context, the uncertainty and global crisis, the need to provide healthcare remotely as a complement or possible replacement of the conventional assistance response, was a catalyst for change…

The myths that telehealth demands a lot of resources, that it is not possible to do a physical exam, that it is less efficient, not safe, all of these have vanished. It is already (almost) consensual that there is a “before” and a “after Covid-19” in the adoption of digital services. Many of these transformations that took place in clinical practice will remain after the pandemic ends: elective and outpatient consultations will be replaced with clear advantages in time management, reducing absenteeism and increasing efficiency of care. Telehealth is destined to be the first point of contact with the system of health, especially in future situations of infectious diseases, preventing dissemination and contagion.

Despite the growing acceptance of this form of care, the path for full integration is not well cleared and defined. There is still a lot of work to be done, a lot of technical aspects to be implemented. One thing is certain – a brave new World is ahead of us, and a lot of lessons are still needed for us as a society to be learned.

About the author

Antonio Guevara Lopez is a third-year medical student at the Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. He is a scientific researcher and communicator. He currently is the scientific vice-president of the Aerospace Medicine and Life Science Student Club in Portugal and also participates in a lot of volunteering projects.  He believes that we all can be better professionals, better persons every day and fight for a world with more kindness, higher tolerance, more compassion, less hate and envy with just small acts of random kindness.

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