Although the number of teleconsultations in Poland is growing dynamically, the boom for telemedicine, which was expected a few years ago, did not occur. Paradoxically, its development may be positively influenced by the current coronavirus pandemic. In view of the rapid increase in the number of infected people and the introduction of further restrictions in personal contacts, teleconsultation may become a necessity. This in turn may contribute to the popularisation of such services in general.
Telemedicine boom didn’t happen
Telemedicine entered Polish law formally in 2015. Due to changes in various laws, especially in the Act on the Professions of Physician and Dentist, providing medical advice by means of ICT devices became legal. It was also allowed to carry out diagnostic tests at a distance. At that time, a boom in telemedical services was expected, but this did not happen. Why?
This was due to the fact that for a significant part of patients, teleconsultation was treated as a curiosity. The quality of such services was assessed as high, but its attractiveness was significantly affected by the fact that it was not possible to issue a sickleave, referral or prescription online. E-sickleave became obligatory from 1 December 2018 and e-prescription from 8 January 2020. At the end of 2019 the Regulation on benefits guaranteed in primary health care was also amended and it was clarified that such benefits may be provided using ICT or communication systems. E-referrals are to be introduced in 2021. All this has an impact on the take-up of telemedicine services. The coronavirus can also play a major role in this respect.
Coronavirus will popularise remote services?
In the current epidemiological situation, the Ministry of Health postulates that doctors should contact potential coronavirus patients through telediagnostics. On the basis of a telephone conversation with the doctor, it is possible not only to obtain recommendations concerning the state of one’s health, but also to receive an e-sickleave or an e-prescription. MZ emphasises that the teleconsultation is treated as a fully-fledged medical examination. Apart from the NFZ hotline, there are also hotlines launched by LUX MED and PZU, prviate medical companies. What is important, they are available 24 hours a day and free of charge, also for people without medical subscriptions in these chains. Telemedical consultations are also postulated for chronically ill people who want to receive a prescription for continuing treatment, or patients from risk groups – oncological or cardiological.
All these activities may contribute to popularisation of telemedicine in Poland and increase interest in this type of medical services also in the future, when the coronavirus epidemic expires. Especially since recently, medical companies have been competing against each other in introducing innovative telemedicine solutions. LUX MED tests a review of the condition of the oral cavity through a smartphone. PZU has launched a virtual clinic. Many private companies have also invested in telekiosks.
The growing demand must be followed by further legal changes. It is mainly about introducing the basis for financing telemedicine services. At present, only geriatric and cardiological teleconsultations are listed in the NFZ contracting. Some medical procedures are based on the interpretation of general regulations and not on detailed guidelines. Therefore, some local governments decide to finance telehealth services from their own budget or EU funds.