Digital Health

eHealth Study: Non-clinical Telehealth Services Are Most Prevalent, but COVID-19 Accelerates New Trends

A person wearing pajamas and sitting in a bed holds a smartphone and video chats with a healthcare professional.

HIMSS e-Health Trendbarometer, supported by SIEMENS HEALTHINEERS, reveals telehealth maturity in Europe just before the COVID-19 outbreak. It also highlights the impact of the pandemic on telemedicine adoption and provides lessons on how the crisis has remodeled the European digital health landscape.

According to the study, 93 percent of health facilities implemented at least one type of telehealth service or solution. The most common were non-clinical applications headed by mobile health services, offered by 54 percent surveyed organizations. It has changed over the past few weeks. Investments in all types of telehealth are growing, including live video-consultations.

A shift from chronic conditions toward regular care

Before the COVID-19 crisis, chronic disease management was the most used or provided telehealth service across all countries, implemented by 74 percent of European stakeholders, particularly in Spain (97 percent) and Italy (86 percent). It’s different in Germany and Switzerland, where the focus is on acute telecare. Nordic countries are champions in using digital health tools for prevention, behavioral and mental health purposes. Medication therapy management is the essential application of telehealth services and solutions for 71 percent of Italian respondents and only 32 percent of those from Switzerland, the UK and Ireland.

The type of diseases to which telehealth solutions and solutions are addressed also reflects the target patient groups. Seven of the 10 stakeholders tailor their applications to the elderly. Notably, the industry recognizes a vast opportunity in the silver economy – 77 percent of technology vendors target seniors, aiming to help them to maintain independence and improve quality of life.

Key challenges from the perspective of users and solution providers

Telehealth faces similar obstacles to digital health in general. The HIMSS e-Health Trendbarometer highlights two of the most significant: funding/efficiency and policy/regulation. These issues are particularly worrying for technology vendors. Although most European countries have already introduced regulatory frameworks to support the adoption of digital health, stakeholders experience many roadblocks, for example, regarding reimbursement policies. Telehealth consultations are usually priced lower compared to those in-person. Other issues limiting the development of telehealth solutions and services are related to IT security and data privacy. The COVID-19 crisis might catalyze the mind-shift and reduce those concerns. This aspect will be explored in greater depth in the next edition of the report.

Business expectations reached an all-time high – and then came COVID-19

When asked how the environment for eHealth innovation and investment will develop over the next 12 months, 74 percent of stakeholders answered that “it will improve.” Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK had the most optimistic view of business opportunities. Only 1 percent of respondents feared that it could deteriorate, 25 percent expected no changes at all. Although digital health might benefit from the COVID-19 crisis in the mid- to long-term, its impact on the market over the next period depends on the course of the pandemic.

Will the adoption of telehealth remain sustainable?

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the enormous value of telehealth in building resilient healthcare systems able to adapt to new challenges. Growing social acceptance of digital health is an excellent opportunity to translate this capability into a smart transformation of healthcare with benefits for patients and all stakeholders.

Jörg Studzinski, Director of Research and Advisory Services at HIMSS, concludes: “Many experts in this field recognize the importance and the need to make telehealth usage sustainable in the long term. However, they admit that they didn’t have the time so far to review their workflows and strategies. The COVID-19 crisis can also provide new opportunities. Now is the best time to overcome cultural challenges, update regulation and improve interoperability that has held back telehealth adoption, especially in clinical use cases, for many years.”

The need for communication methods to provide services such as monitoring and consultations – without the patient having to be physically present or spend hours in a waiting room – became clear virtually overnight. And this rapid evolution was quickly accepted by many providers and patients as the ‘new norm,’ says Rahma Samow, SVP & Global Head of Marketing, Sales & Communications, Digital Health at Siemens Healthineers.

About the HIMSS e-Health Trendbarometer 2020

The e-Health Trendbarometer 2020 is a result of a survey conducted in January and February 2020 of more than 350 digital health professionals from 27 European countries.

The study provides unique insights into the adoption of telehealth services and solutions by European healthcare providers, technology vendors and other important eHealth stakeholders just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the continent. The results include guidelines for the sustainable planning and implementation of telehealth services today and in the future.

HIMSS Analytics International Senior Vice President Tim Kelsey is excited about the new approach and design of the e-Health Trendbarometer reports.

“Adding additional insights from solution users and topic experts to the findings from our quantitative research provides more value to our audiences. Presenting the results in a completely new design is underlining the improvements we have made to this type of research. We hope you like it,” Kelsey said.

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