Scaling up online care around the world

In the fifth chapter of their book, The Digital Pill: What Everyone Should Know about the Future of Our Healthcare System, the authors Prof. Dr. Elgar Fleisch, Christoph Franz, and Prof. Dr. Andreas Herrmann review a number of platforms that allow patients to schedule doctor’s visits and receive care online.

The authors describe how patient satisfaction is becoming a more important factor in healthcare. This trend is mirrored in the types of services that allow patients to chose and review doctors online. Patients also want to feel more self-empowered to make their own choices about their health, which is a reason why independent reviews are sought. However, this trend of reviewing healthcare providers can also be seen critically, since there are few ways to check the accuracy of the information shared online and since doctors are unable to respond to negative reviews due to the doctor-patient confidentiality.

Fleisch et al. look at a number of different online services emerging which offer scheduling and consultations over the internet. For instance, the Practo network offers online appointments to patients in India, Brazil, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, while the organisation DocPlanner allows patients in over 20 countries to schedule appointments with doctors in their area, amongst over services. More extensive services are covered by the US company Doctor on demand which can put patients in contact with physicians, psychologists, and therapists over a smartphone app.

So what are some of the reasons for this trend towards online care? The authors explain that many requests can simply be dealt with digitally rather than in person. A more pressing issue driving the necessity of online care is a global shortage of physicians, with an often uneven distribution of doctors among regions.

Fleisch et al. further discuss digital physician assistants which leverage artificial intelligence to support diagnostic services. The US company Enlitic for instance use AI to analyse radiological images. In China, the company Wlycloud addresses the major issue of detecting lung cancer – the most common form of cancer in China – in rural areas. With the help of AI and cloud services, the company is able to diagnose conditions from a central location rather than staffing radiology centres across the country.

The authors point out that it isn’t just patients who benefit from digital platforms, citing the example of the New-York based company MedScape which offers physicians the opportunity to obtain a second opinion with the aim of reducing misdiagnoses.

The authors further identify that online pharmacies are also booming, with some regulatory authorities cautioning against fraudulent websites and counterfeit medications. The convenience of an online pharmacy and their competitive prices have nevertheless led to an increase in such services – especially in the USA, where 25% of medication is now purchased online.

The authors further discuss the new emergence of “unstaffed mini-clinics” in China and look at a solution which may be the ultimate offering for patients: a digital one-stop platform that provides value for money.

This book chapter provides an overview of a range of online platforms and digital services aimed to increase access to care and convenience for patients and providers.

Would you like to learn more about the topic of digitalisation of healthcare? The English version of the book, “The Digital Pill: What Everyone Should Know about the Future of Our Healthcare System is available online and in book shops (see references below).

Fleisch, E., Franz, C. and Herrmann, A. (2021). The Digital Pill: What Everyone Should Know about the Future of Our Healthcare System, Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78756-676-7. 10.1108/978-1-78756-675-020211015. Learn more here.

Fleisch, E., Franz, C., Herrmann, A., Mönninghoff, A., Die digitale Pille: Eine Reise in die Zukunft unseres Gesundheitssystems, Campus Verlag: Frankfurt a.M., Deutschland. Learn more here.

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