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HEALTH| 08.10.2020

COVID-19: The first telemedicine experience for many

Marta Villalba

Pedro Díaz Yuste

During the harshest months of lockdown, when everyone was confined to their homes, many people—needing to consult a medical specialist or simply get a prescription to continue their treatment—experienced telemedicine for the first time. Its success, rated highly in general, is perhaps a sign that telemedicine is here to stay.

Everyone faced the same situation, regardless of age, gender, social status and place of residence. Telemedicine was used equally by young people, the elderly, men, women, city dwellers and those from rural areas. We have all had a crash course in technology over the past few months, learning how to use different technological tools to communicate during lockdown. We turned this need into an advantage. We all also learned how to contact a doctor via chat or video call. Before the arrival of the coronavirus, this may have seemed like science fiction for many people, but it has become a reality and will likely continue to be used.

During lockdown, over 150,000 consultations were held through Savia, the digital health services platform launched by MAPFRE in February 2019. For half of users, this was their first telemedicine experience. Savia was the solution for many people who needed medical advice, at a time when we were advised to avoid going to hospitals or health centers if possible. A professional’s opinion gives people confidence and that was what happened here. Savia was available for everyone, not just MAPFRE clients, as we decided to open this platform free of charge to the whole population. And the medical professionals who provided these consultations did so selflessly.

The tragedy of the coronavirus outbreak must be turned into an opportunity to advance the digitization of healthcare. The private sector was already working on this digital transformation, but the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated this work, which must, irrefutably, be extended to the public sector.

It provides multiple advantages, which will become more tangible as usage increases. In times like these, when the economic situation forces us to find cost-saving measures, efficiency in controlling health spending in the coming years is probably one of the most significant advantages of telemedicine.

Everyone involved, both Authorities and private agents, must push to make telemedicine available to all users. This technology makes easy-access consultations possible, at any time and from anywhere. Users must be given the choice, so that they can choose their preferred format for this relationship.

It is true that telemedicine and chat consultations, for example, are not suitable for all illnesses. There are certainly situations in which physical examination is necessary and currently irreplaceable — but there are other circumstances where physically going to a doctor’s office is not necessary. For these situations, users have deemed telemedicine to be an option that provides a very high quality of care. In fact, 98 percent of those who used Savia during lockdown recorded a very high level of satisfaction with the service that they received. If users are satisfied and have good experiences, they are very likely to return. The first experience makes an impression, and many people had their first experience of telemedicine during this crisis. For many, it will not be their last.