Big jump in use of telemedicine

Five-fold increase since start of pandemic
  • Deborah Condon

The number of people using technology, such as phones, Zoom and Skype, to consult with doctors has jumped during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research has shown.

Telemedicine is the use of technology by a medical practitioner to provide healthcare services to patients.

According to research commissioned by the Medical Council, just 4% of the population had used telemedicine in March of this year. However by October, this had jumped to 21% - a five-fold increase.

The research included a survey of 1,016 adults in March, followed by a survey of 992 adults in late October.

Among those who have used telemedicine, 80% said they were satisfied with the service they had used and 55% said they are likely to use it more often in the future. Some 21% said they are unlikely to use it in the future.

Many are using the service for repeat prescriptions as GP appointments may be unavailable at the time they want.

While 50% said telemedicine is more convenient for them, only around 33% feel that it meets their care needs. However, around 25% said that telemedicine allowed them to connect with doctors that they would not have been able to access otherwise.

According to the president of the Medical Council, Dr Rita Doyle, these findings show that Irish patients "have adapted and changed their behaviours in light of the challenges faced by the pandemic".

"Doctors have also had to rapidly adapt to meet the care needs of their patients, with doctors around the country going above and beyond the norm in such a difficult time for the country."

"The significantly high rates of satisfaction levels among those who have had a telemedicine consultation, along with many doctors who are new themselves to the provision of care via telemedicine, reflects very positively on the professionalism and dedication of doctors in Ireland," Dr Doyle commented.

In response to the higher number of patients availing of telemedicine, the Medical Council has produced a guide to help patients understand what is involved in such a consultation.

It explains how these consultations work, what patients can expect and what they can do in preparation for the consultation to help ensure the doctor can provide the appropriate care.

According to Medical Council member and chairperson of the council's Working Group on Telemedicine, Paul Harkin, the booklet answers key questions that patients may have.

"For many patients, and doctors too, the shift to delivering patient care via telemedicine came almost overnight. It has been a learning curve for both doctors and patients alike, and although it will never replace a face-to-face consultation, telemedicine will play a greater role in the delivery of patient care in various formats going into the future," he added.

The guide can be accessed here.


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