How can an internationally stable health system be achieved?

The pandemic has made undoubtedly clear the necessity of collaborations between several institutions at an international and supranational levels so to solve the biggest challenges of today. In particular, Covid-19 has accentuated not only the need for more investments and adequate health systems, but also, and more importantly, the increasingly urgent request to provide medical support at distance. It is in this context that telemedicine has become essential for the correct functioning of a frail and deficient system. Made possible by information and communication technologies (ICTs) applied to the medical sector, telemedicine is bound to be the next best practice facilitating our lives and without which we won’t live without.

It is of common knowledge how digital tools such as telephones, computers, stable internet connections and specialized equipment can revolutionize not only the way we communicate, but also the transfer of knowledge and practices guaranteeing widespread accessibility to public health. Telemedicine and all its technologies have great potentials for optimizing the health system at the national and international level, making use of equipment that allows doctors and nursing teams to interact with remote colleagues and patients. As a result, updates and information, discoveries and innovations are much more easily exchanged and discussed so to break those geographical barriers that would deprive many disadvantaged areas of health care as well.

“Telemedicine creates a university without borders that fosters academic growth and independence because the local participating surgeons have direct access to experts in the developed world.” (WHO)

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and the ever-increasing needs, the health care industry has adapted relatively quickly, adopting tools that were already existing on the market but in many cases snubbed in favour of more traditional ones. Fortunately, things are changing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in July 2021 telehealth utilization has stabilized at 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, the market is expected to rise to over $397 billion USD by 2027 and 76% of patients said they would be interested in using telehealth in the future.

Despite its numerous advantages brought by the development telemedicine and its enormous spread, many obstacles still persist. Among others, access, equity, quality, and cost-effectiveness, which are problems that both developed and less economically developed countries share. Furthermore, there are still many specialists who do not have the right knowledge to manage these tools. In addition, in more conservative countries, this practice is still considered too remote and difficult to apply resulting in an evident preference towards traditional or natural remedies, which in many cases are also outdated.

As Observatory on Digital Communication affiliated with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, OCCAM is actively working in this field by collaborating with the International Institute of Telemedicine, by participating to Conferences and Think Thank initiatives and by realizing projects like the ICT Villages and eMedMed. Every year, OCCAM discusses the progresses made in this field by inviting experts to attend the Infopoverty World Conference, whose result always outline the urgency to further develop telemedicine tools and best practices.

“Actually, when we look at the SDG goals, they are all, either directly or indirectly, related to health and to the need of achieving universal health coverage. So, equity in health is a significant key for including diverse population and achieving global inclusiveness in digital equity. No one should be left behind”.

The future prospects of telemedicine are ambitious and give hope to overcome the access gap that several countries are still experiencing. Despite its rapid growth, there are still improvements to be made to guarantee stability, accessibility and affordability, including the provision of professional training of those involved and the need of investments required to carry out these treatments, which still remains very high.

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