The digital transformation of healthcare services is a hot topic during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. To limit the spreading of the severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), in a short period of time an accelerated digitalization took place in many societies. The direct, physical interaction between doctors and patients was replaced by digital types of communication and examination, to avoid the patients’ exposure to the risk of infection in healthcare facilities or during their travel to hospitals or medical offices. Telemedicine was introduced as an alternative option, being reimbursed for consultations and remote monitoring of patients with different pathologies. The role of the digital healthcare services when the pandemic will end and will eventually transform in endemic in certain areas and populations is unclear now. A large part of the modern communication, either professional or personal implies the use of digital technologies (e-mail, SMS, message sharing apps, video etc.) and different social media platforms or applications (apps). In healthcare facilities, patients’ medical data are almost entirely recorded in a digital system and can be easily accessed and shared with different physicians. The remote approach is a valuable tool for patients’ convenience when the social interaction is impossible or prohibited. However, issues related to protection of personal data and data security have been raised in this context, especially in highly regulated healthcare systems. Moreover, there are legitimate concerns that physicians will limit their physical interaction with patients and the medical examination will be entirely digital, without the touch of empathy, compassion, and direct human-to-human communication and support, that have been part of the art of medical practice for centuries. The digitalization may also increase the risk of social inequalities, where patients without access to modern digital technologies or internet may be left behind. Another issue is related to medical responsibility when using artificial intelligence: will the doctor be held responsible for negative results when applying the digital algorithms and digital decision-making tools? The responsibilities must be clearly defined. There are opinions that digitalization of healthcare services will not necessarily lead to better patients’ outcomes, despite their increased accessibility. One big concern is related to the teaching methods of medical universities. The traditional academic model of teaching medical students to the bedsides of the afflicted and practical training in the hospitals has largely shifted during COVID-19 pandemic to online teaching methods. In this context, there is the possibility that a few generations of medical students will graduate without bedside clinical instruction or contact between students and patients. What will be the impact on the medical practice in the future? Nobody knows yet. There is a high probability that the future of medicine will be hybrid, divided between face-to-face visits and virtual care and monitoring. Healthcare digital technologies can be used in certain clinical settings, where their added value is undeniable, and they offer better outcomes at a reasonable cost. Where they lead to poorer healthcare outcomes or inequalities, the traditional medical approach should be preferred. Digitalization of healthcare services must be driven by the needs of patients and health care professionals, to shape a better future of patient’s care.
Address for correspondence:
Camelia C. DIACONU