As global infection rates rapidly increased in the early months of coronavirus, Brazilian officials implemented a temporary telemedicine system.
This enabled patients to receive medical assistance without visiting a doctor, which not only hastened the triage process, but also slowed the spread of infection – by keeping people away from hospitals and GP surgeries.
Telemedicine works by allowing patients to call a free hotline to schedule a same-day triage video appointment – either by phone or computer. The person is assessed and the appropriate action is taken, for example, treatment is offered on the spot, a referral to a hospital is made or an ambulance is sent.
Encouraged by early signs of success, the country’s healthcare policymakers were keen to understand the benefits, drawbacks and contrasting experiences of telemedicine use as they looked for possible longer-term use of the system.
So, in a joint project between the Federal University of Technology Paraná, in Curitiba, Brazil, and Loughborough University, alumnus Dr Higor Leite and Professor Ian Hodgkinson of Loughborough spent two years studying the initiative in collaboration with the Health Secretary of Curitiba to reveal critical areas for improvement and key successes, as expressed by patients, physicians, providers, and policymakers.
Prof Hodgkinson, of Loughborough’s School of Business and Economics, said: “Telemedicine was originally a short-term response to COVID-19 - there was no clear healthcare policy on its use for the long term.
“This is what we helped to develop by tracking telemedicine implementation and identifying areas for attention, for example, patient hardware capabilities, patient broadband access, data privacy and data protection, training of healthcare professionals, regulatory needs, insurance and liability.
“The research undertaken has helped to ensure telemedicine continues as a critical tool being used in healthcare today, widening access to health services for many.”
The study took place in the Curitiba Metropolitan area, which comprises 26 municipalities with a total population exceeding 3.2 million.
The instrumental role the collaborative research played has been recognised by the Health Secretary of the Curitiba Metropolitan area in a formal Letter of Appreciation to Prof Hodgkinson and his co-investigator Dr Leite for developing public policies that benefit the citizenry.
The research has been recently published in Public Management Review (open access): https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2021.2012375