Debate on NHS Digital First Initiative Demonstrates Telemedicine’s Hidden Hurdle

November 29, 2012 – 6:30 pm

Telemedicine can reduce inconvenient doctor appointments and be especially helpful for patients in remote areas, but the field is not advancing nearly as quickly as it could. Challenges in reimbursement, regulation, law and privacy are some factors slowing the growth. Moreover, many patients remain sceptical.

The recent debate on the UK National Health Service’s (NHS) Digital First plan demonstrates the divide between digital health professionals and the public when it comes to perception of telemedicine. The initiative has been praised on the Digital Health group on LinkedIn, but comments from patients, such as on this article from Sunday Express, show a different picture, with many patients fearing it eventually end up costing lives.

The initiative was first outlined in the UK Health Department’s report Digital First and includes plans to increase virtual doctor appointments, mobile health phone apps and text messages with lab results. Such initiatives could be especially helpful for patients in remote areas, and for seniors having a difficulty making it into the doctor’s office.

The dramatic headline of the Sunday Express article, “End of the doctor’s surgery”, may have ignited some of the negative comments. (Despite the dramatic headline, the plan is not meant to eliminate in-person doctor appointments, but reduce them.) The resistance to the initiative may also partly be caused by fact that the proposal was created to help close a £20 billion budget gap. However, the debate shows that digital health has a few more hurdles to overcome than logistical and financial ones.

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