AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Telemedicine In Europe: Another Euro Disney Experience?

It seemed like a “no-brainer. Take the most successful family entertainment experience (Disney World), clone an exact copy, pack it all up, and implant it to the center of European culture and voila, another mega Disney entertainment success story!  Well, not exactly. It seems as though the European culture frowns on fast food, long lines and many other conveniences and inconveniences that Americans have become accustomed to enjoying and enduring.  The initial Disney experience required many millions of dollars and years of tweaking and modification to the American Disney World model before it became anything nearly as successful. It forever set-forth another example as to how Europeans differ in their perceptions and customs relative to other world societies.  So where does entertainment and telemedicine have commonality?

Decade’s after Disney’s surprising experience significant advances in telecommunications technologies have brought about vast improvements to societies all around the world, across all industries, commerce, media, personal communication and even to the well-established healthcare delivery model.  And while some resistance to changes in healthcare delivery, brought on by the telemedicine and telehealth revolution, have been experienced the vast majority of cultures around the world are envisioning and welcoming significant benefits to the quality and availability of medical services derived from the revolution.  Even deeply traditional governmental regulation and policy barriers are falling aside, albeit slowly in some cases, giving way to a new era of medical care delivery.  But in Old Europe, as telemedicine revolutionizes medical care around the rest of the world, Germans are happier paying a visit to the doctor, and those who could benefit most from the technology will just have to wait.

By international standards, Germans have plenty of doctors: 3.84 for every 1,000 patients. In the US, the number is 2.46. But such statistics shed little light on how doctors are distributed throughout a country. “In some rural regions, we have a situation where a consultation might require a day’s travel for the patient,” says Wolfgang Loos, chairman of the German Society for Telemedicine. One of the solutions, he says, is that a doctor could consult patients via live video streams to the patient’s home. Digital medicine is taking hold in the field of stroke prevention and care, small hospitals and care clinics are networked and can consult specialists through video conferencing whenever they have questions. Patients with chronic heart issues can access a different form of telemedicine: some measuring instruments are connected to centralized medical networks, and if a patient’s value suddenly worsens, a nearby doctor is alerted. But telemedicine faces a number of particularly German hurdles.

Doctors in Germany, as stipulated in the “prohibition of remote treatment” (a German physician’s code of conduct), doctors are not allowed to diagnose a patient remotely without having dealt with that patient before, at least once in person.

Beyond code of conduct restrictions, patients in Germany are accustomed to, and expect, a direct line of personal contact with their general practitioner and specialist. And while most German physicians recognize huge potential in the field of telemedicine, they continue to view “direct contact between doctor and patient as indispensable.” A custom many early detractors of telemedicine in America promoted, only to be rebuffed by patients once the convenience of virtual consultations was experienced.

There are also technical barriers that inhibit telemedicine in Germany. In many regions, high-speed Internet access is lagging, making video conferencing or the transmission of large patient data files nearly impossible. The areas lacking broadband access are often the same rural regions, say its advocates, which would benefit most from telemedicine.

It appears that cloning even the most advantageous of instruments and practices of technology will need some tweaking and modification in order to be universally accepted and successful.


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