Telemedicine involves healthcare services delivered through digital mediums. The purpose of telemedicine is to meet the requirements of current healthcare consumers while also improving the capacity to transform the delivery methods of healthcare, making them convenient, fast and cost-effective.
Various European countries have started to recognize the worth of telecommunication and its benefits. However, the Maltese healthcare system is still in its early phase when it comes to this particular treatment delivery medium. According to the records of the World Health Organisation, the current population of Malta is 460,000while the total expenditure on health per capita in 2014 was $3,072.
The Maltese Healthcare industry can incorporate telemedicine services for transformational improvements in costs, development in the delivery of health supervision to all divisions of the population, and meeting consumer demand.
According to multiple reports from World Health Organisation and European Commission, Telemedicine can sustain and improve patients’ health and quality of life, particularly for those with chronic diseases, by enabling more convenient access to medical supervision without bearing travel hazards and expenses. Medical monitoring and check-up at home through video calls and other mediums has proven to expand life expectancy.
For instance, it has been estimated that by facilitating remote checks on patients through telemedicine, the total annual savings estimated per patient were determined to be €292 in France and €712 in Germany which amounted to 30% and 61% saving respectively.
Considering the fact that wider deployment of telemedicine has the potential to transform the way healthcare is delivered, early compliance of treatment based on monitoring data may stabilize a given health condition and avoid acute adverse events. Eventually, these innovations will help to shift from the current reactive and acute care-focused healthcare model to a more preventive, proactive and highly personalized one.
The global market for telemedicine and eHealth, in general, is approximately worth €60 billion, of which only one-third of it is represented by Europe, i.e. €20 billion. Telemedicine, therefore, is considered the third largest sector in the health industry, after pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
The European pharmaceutical market is estimated to be around €205 billion and the annual sales figure of the European medical technology industry is €64 billion — making up one-third of the world market share. The potential for the market of telemedicine in Europe is a crucial part of the overall eHealth sector, and not only that, but there is a multitude of examples of positive estimates of growth.
According to the report by the Scottish Government, Telecare in Scotland: Embracing the Future, Benchmarking the Present, it was estimated that the telemedicine sector globally was valued around $5.8 billion in the year of 2007, with the chances to see a substantial growth of almost 20% per annum in the next 4 years.
Pushing telemedicine will be beneficial for eHealth market growth since telemedicine services have the potential to be integrated with numerous other services such as electronic health records and personal health systems. Finally, it can also be an additional incentive for the Member States to accelerate the roll-out of broadband, which is a prerequisite for well-functioning telemedicine.
According to the survey conducted by the European Commission, all healthcare units in Malta are attached to broadband, which is uniformly shared over the various broadband speeds. Hence, we can safely postulate that Malta has the required network for adopting telemedicine, having a single and unified wireless infrastructure and integrated system for e-referral.
But there are many challenges ahead of the government to initiate effective measures to encourage and support the telemedicine industry in the country. In many hospitals, many patient records are not kept electronically. The most extensive amount of patient records is managed by the Medical Records Department, which still saved around 450,000 volumes of patient files. The survey indicates the lack of any telemonitoring in Maltese hospitals.
If telemedicine becomes fully functional in Malta, it can promote efforts to significantly increase the quality of healthcare by enhancing approachability and performance through diminishing the travel issues, implementing easy clinical support, defeating geographic restrictions, operating through various communication devices, and improving health rate among patients.
One of the most significant advantage that Maltese Healthcare industry can acquire from telemedicine is in the field of psychiatry. The initiative can not only reduce the cost for patients, but it can also be a convenient method for conducting sessions for doctors.
The report from the World Health Organisation reveals that Malta possesses a mental health facility and a special psychiatric system inside its general hospitals volunteering to offer both outpatient and inpatient services. Malta features amongst the countries with the highest rates of psychiatric patient beds for every 100,000 citizens in community psychiatric inpatient units in Europe (WHO, 2017).
In many countries, Telepsychiatry is utilized not only for private therapy sessions but also to provide mental health services to hospitals, institutions, rehab facilities, and military treatment facilities. Following are some advantages of telemedicine in the field of psychiatry.
Automated Evaluation –Most of the methods to conduct sessions in mental health are time-consuming and expensive. Several automated methods have been developed according to the type of data and the required analysis.
Assessing Biosignals– Through advance telepsychiatry, people’s physical and mental conditions can be better assessed by checking their biological signals, such as electrocardiograms and electroencephalograms (EKG and EEG).
Accurate Behaviour Analysis– Image analysis techniques have been generated to study a person’s face, expression, feeling, and associated symptoms.
Convenient Accessibility– As telemedicine reduces travelling time and expenditure, accessibility to mental health in Malta can be increased through online sessions. On an average rate, a single psychiatrist can conduct 10% more online sessions, compared to the regular ones.
Malta’s public healthcare system is free at the point of delivery, along with a private healthcare system. The life expectancy of birth, according to the latest records of the National Statistics Office, 2016 is 82.1 years, social protection in Malta is a priority. 15.64 percent of the general government total expense is allotted to the health care industry in the country.
In accordance with telemedicine compatibility and infrastructure, 65% of the Maltese GP practices utilize a computer system among which, 55% of them have internet.
However, the consultation through a computer is limited in the area, only 27% of GP practitioners use the Decision Support Systems.
Although telemedicine has the potential to upgrade the Maltese health care system, there is still not much exposure of eHealth applications in Malta. This can be changed with efficient telemedicine services and government reforms as the matter of telemedicine and eHealth has come into the limelight only very recently on the political spectrum in Malta.