Telemedicine: new directions for the future?

Healthcare & Life Sciences

Telemedicine services are gradually becoming more common across all healthcare sectors in Finland. Occupational health services and private sector service providers are actively developing telemedicine services, because these can be used to treat patients more efficiently, more easily and at a lower cost. Public sector service providers are, in turn, looking to relieve doctor shortages, as well as for the opportunity to provide medical services to remote areas.

As a healthcare service provider, would you like to give patients the opportunity to reach a doctor by phone or video link, perhaps from their own home? This might stop people travelling to doctors’ practices when ill and, where required, prescriptions could be sent electronically to a pharmacy.

The threshold for seeking treatment may also be reduced. From the perspective of organisations that have purchased occupational health services for their staff, telemedicine improves the availability of healthcare services, reduces staff travel time, and increases available working hours.

An attractive option, as long as the shared rules are clear. The calm and controlled progress of telemedicine is a prerequisite for ensuring patient safety, quality of service, as well as data protection and data security. As such, it is important to outline any symptom-based limitations to the new service, as well as where the patient and doctor may be during consultations. For example, is a summer house a suitable place for delivering telemedicine?

The autumn bought new rules for telemedicine providers

Our existing legislation does not have a comprehensive set of provisions on telemedicine services. However, the law on private health and social care services is currently under review and the aim is to bring new ways of delivering healthcare under the scope of legislation in connection with the present reforms. In the meantime, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and Valvira (The National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health) have provided national guidance on telemedicine services, which was published at the end of last year. To summarise, in terms of content, telemedicine services are deemed broadly equivalent to traditional face-to-face consultations. Service providers must have appropriate facilities, equipment, and suitably qualified staff. Provision of services requires:

  • careful assessment of whether it is suitable to deliver their service remotely and whether the patient can be suitably treated using telemedicine

  • patient consent and identification using a reliable method

  • practitioners to keep appropriate records and maintain a patient register

  • private service providers and independent practitioners to be licensed or registered to provide telemedicine services

  • providers to compile and update a self-monitoring plan on their services

Today, no Kela (The Social Insurance Institution of Finland) reimbursement is available for telemedicine services, which has slowed the service from becoming more common in the private sector. We look forward to Kela’s new guidance on reimbursement, which is due to be published on 1 March 2016, as the other boundary conditions of telemedicine services have now become nationally defined.

A flexible alternative to traditional consultations

It is clear that a face-to-face consultation with a doctor cannot always be replaced. A traditional consultation is necessary, for example, when the patient needs to be physically examined prior to treatment. At its best telemedicine services can, however, act as a flexible alternative as part of the healthcare service provider’s overall service model. Positive experiences with telemedicine have been gained not only in getting appointments, but also in the follow-up of patients with chronic illnesses and in the transmission of medical test results to clients. The scale of services that could be delivered through telemedicine is vast.

Did this topic interest you? At Fondia, we are happy to assist with legal issues related to telemedicine services and data protection requirements. In fact, this year, we are also working on the digitalisation of our services and are always looking to develop new, more efficient ways of working. Learn more about our upcoming free webinars (in Finnish):