Challenges of using telemedicine in hospital specialty consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic in Portugal according to a panel of experts

Translated title of the contribution: Desafios da utilização da telemedicina em consultas de especialidade hospitalar, durante a pandemia de COVID-19 em Portugal, segundo um painel de peritos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telemedicine as a means of reducing face-to-face contact and protecting professionals and patients. In Portugal, the number of hospital telemedicine consultations has significantly increased. However, the rapid implementation of telemedicine has also led to disparities in access to these services, resulting in inequalities in healthcare delivery. The aim of this study was to identify the main challenges to accessing hospital medical specialty consultations through telemedicine in Portugal during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, this study aimed to establish a consensus on possible solutions for the challenges which were identified. Methods: This study used the nominal group technique, which involved a panel of 10 experts. The panel generated a total of 71 ideas, which were then categorized into three groups: A) challenges relating to patients, which impact access to hospital-based medical specialty consultations through telemedicine; B) challenges relating to professionals, institutions and health systems, which impact access to hospital medical specialty consultations through telemedicine; C) recommendations to overcome the challenges faced in adopting telemedicine solutions. Each of the ideas was assessed, scored and ranked based on its relevance considering the study objectives. Results: This study identified several significant challenges that impacted the adoption of telemedicine in Portugal during the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges that related to patients (A) that were deemed the most relevant were low digital literacy, lack of information about telemedicine processes, low familiarity with technologies and distrust about the quality of services; the challenges that impacted healthcare professionals, institutions, and health systems (B) and were deemed the most relevant were the lack of integration of telemedicine in the patient's journey, low motivation to adopt telemedicine solutions, poor interoperability between systems, and the absence of the necessary technological equipment. The most relevant recommendations (C) included investing in healthcare institutions, developing clear guidelines for the safety and quality of telemedicine practices, and incorporating telemedicine into the curricula of health professions. Conclusion: This study identified several challenges that impacted the adoption and implementation of telemedicine services for hospital care in Portugal during the pandemic period. These challenges were related to digital health literacy, technological and operational conditions, and reluctance in technological adoption. To overcome these challenges, training programs for healthcare professionals and patients may be necessary, along with investment in technological infrastructures, interoperability between systems, effective communication strategies and the strengthening of specific regulations.

Translated title of the contributionDesafios da utilização da telemedicina em consultas de especialidade hospitalar, durante a pandemia de COVID-19 em Portugal, segundo um painel de peritos
Original languageMultiple languages
Pages (from-to)198-206
Number of pages9
JournalActa Medica Portuguesa
Volume37
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Digital Health
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Portugal
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Telemedicine

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