For legal reasons, remote medical diagnoses were not possible in Germany for a long time. Other EU countries, such as Estonia, took this step earlier. Despite the early vision of some local start-ups positioning themselves for a telemedicine future in Germany, it took until May 2018 when the ban on remote treatment was lifted at the German Doctors’ Day. This is now also mainly supported by the regional medical associations. Since then it has been possible for patients to be diagnosed and treated remotely (on a telemedicine basis). Players such as Munich-based TeleClinic, DrEd (Zava since 2019) and Fernarzt.com from Berlin-based HealthTech forge Heartbeat Labs were delighted by this development. However, the hoped momentum initially fell short of expectations, as Germany initially struggled with widespread acceptance and comprehensive infrastructure. However, a lot has happened in this area as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – and the hour of telemedicine has now also begun here in Germany.
Critics have always had a clear opinion since the easing in 2018. The general resilience of remote diagnoses is called into question from a medical point of view, especially for new patients, where the doctor and patient do not yet know each other well and the doctor is not fully aware of the patient’s medical history. Concerns about privacy and security, such as electronic exchange of sensitive patient data, also play an important role. The risk of potential exploitation through easier access is also mentioned, for example through the acquisition of sick notes or certificates of incapacity for work.
However, in light of the current global health crisis caused by corona virus, the words of critics faded into the background, as the advantages of telemedicine became clear surprisingly quickly. It is well-known that the virus was underestimated when it began to spread in Europe. Unknowing patients in overcrowded practices certainly also led to a multiplier effect in the initial phase. These days, unnecessary visits to doctors should be avoided. A well-positioned telemedicine offering can act as a catalyst here – worried patients with symptoms of any kind have a digital contact person, and can safely discuss next steps remotely and reduce the risk of passing on illness or becoming infected. There are also general advantages in metropolitan areas, such as reduced waiting times and availability at medical practices. Appointments can also be assigned, attended and utilized more effectively. Long periods of sitting in waiting rooms have been eliminated by telemedicine, while in rural areas travel routes are shorter and it’s no longer necessary to travel a few towns away to see the nearest doctor. With the roll-out of the e-prescription from 2021, patients will also be able to request important medicines electronically and have them delivered directly and easily to their homes via an online pharmacy. While all this significantly improves the customer experience of patients and insured persons, the effective use of telemedicine as a supplement for health insurers also offers cost advantages. For example, in the case of telemedicine-based monitoring of chronically ill patients, treatment and travel costs can be significantly reduced due to the absence of frequent face-to-face appointments at the practice, without compromising the quality of care or consultation.
The current crisis shows how lively the market has now become. Existing players understand how to use this as an opportunity for themselves and make a positive contribution with various offerings and information about the virus. TeleClinic and Kry, for example, offer a one-off free coronavirus video consultation. Fernarzt.com offers free telephone consultation and, like Go Spring, an online symptom checker based on a questionnaire. In Switzerland, Medgate is even commissioned by the Federal Office of Health as the official operator of an information hotline on coronavirus. On the part of primary insurers, Allianz operates the “Doc-on-Call” service with its partner Medi24. Customers of health insurance and supplementary insurance have different functions at their disposal depending on the tariff.
AXA states that 45 percent of Germans can now imagine consulting their doctor via video at least on an occasional basis – this popularity will be much higher after corona virus. Due to lockdowns and contact bans, many patients are more digitally proficient than before the crisis, and in some areas only communicate with their colleagues virtually. Video chats with doctors are no longer an unspeakable idea, and insured persons will in future ask more specifically for digital offerings and additional benefits in the area of health. Insurers should therefore take the current situation as an opportunity to position themselves in terms of telemedicine offerings, or to further develop their existing offering. Several approaches to strategic partnerships can be observed in the market in this respect. Another insurer, R+V, launched TeleClinic’s services for its fully insured patients at the end of March. Another model was recently launched by Bayerische und Barmenia, where telemedicine consultation is available as an additional module for €9.80 per month for individuals with either private or statutory insurance. The two insurers have entered into a strategic partnership with the German subsidiary of Medgate from Switzerland. In general, partnerships such as these offer the insurer the opportunity to help shape prices and the scope of their offerings, but insured persons are then usually tied to the respective telemedicine partner. AXA recently took an even more comprehensive and very interesting step by means of a strategic partnership with the international hotel chain Accor. Guests with symptoms can receive access to various health and assistance services directly on-site from July. This is certainly a clever move in view of the now slowly rising travel activity in Europe.
AXA’s approach is exemplary for the design of telemedicine services: Customers’ travel concerns are reduced and the insurance company significantly increases its everyday relevance and is becoming more of a focus as a partner. In addition to a long-term and healthy customer relationship, this ultimately also promotes potential for cross-selling and up-selling for the insurer.
Health insurers should therefore now explore the market and define or expand the ideal telemedicine service portfolio for their customers and tariffs, as well as forming appropriate partnerships with service providers. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need support in this.
Müller, M. / Schlicht, F.