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Estudio sobre la consulta de salud virtual y sus beneficios para el sistema sanitario

Barcelona Health Hub is a technology association that brings together a wide range of companies from this sector. This institution was created in 2018 to promote understanding, dissemination and innovation in digital health both within Spain and abroad.

At Barcelona Health Hub we are fully aware of the role played by telemedicine in the months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially virtual health consultations (an event carried out remotely via digital media in which the physician acts as a medical professional to guide, diagnose and/or prescribe treatment for a patient remotely).

Indeed, the number of virtual health consultations has increased exponentially and public and private healthcare providers, insurers, phone companies and start-ups, amongst others, have worked, and continue to work, to provide the best possible healthcare and technological solutions to meet this demand. The need for remote healthcare during the pandemic in order to reduce the need for outpatient visits and A&E in non-urgent cases, thereby limiting the number of infections, has meant that some pre-existing barriers have been overcome.

The regulatory (the initial medical history must be taken in person), financial (virtual consultations are not always counted or paid) and safety barriers (lack of a general healthcare professional accreditation system) found in Spain must be overcome to ensure that virtual health consultations are here to stay. Although remote healthcare was being performed in Spain before the pandemic, it was not common and was mainly performed in the private sector. Now that it has become more frequent, we should ensure this continues. However, this must be done in an ordered and regulated manner, that provides safety and integrity, and respects personal data protection, guarantees adequate care and is recognised and counted as a medical event.

A virtual health consultation can be carried out at different stages in the patient’s itinerary (prevention, access to outpatient visits, home-based follow-up, etc.) and in different therapeutic fields (traumatology, oncology, endocrinology, neurology, ophthalmology, mental health, etc.). In addition, it offers a number of advantages for both the healthcare system and for professionals and patients when compared with in-person consultations. For example, it allows the access times for specialised healthcare and waiting times in consultations to be reduced, and, in general, consultations tend to be shorter than when held in person. Moreover, it avoids the need for the patient to travel, thus resulting in economic benefits and saving time. As such, it is an important complement to a face-to-face consultation.

The aim of this study is to bring together the community concerned to make such consultations a general rather than limited reality. At Barcelona Health Hub we hope to provoke a reflection regarding the current status of virtual consultations, current legislation, the advantages and benefits for the healthcare system, professionals and patients, as well as their inherent barriers and limitations and the changes that need to be made.

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