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Doctors on demand: why digital healthcare is great news for expats

When you live abroad, one of the biggest challenges is working out the local healthcare system. You may be unsure how to arrange to see a doctor – or short of time to squeeze in an appointment once you’ve found out.

Doctors on demand: why digital healthcare is great news for expats
Photo: Getty Images

Even once you’re face-to-face with a doctor, you may still be worried about a potential language barrier or your lack of local knowledge. It’s hardly what you want when making a medical appointment becomes one more source of stress.

Now, however, digitalisation is rapidly changing healthcare – and offering international residents the chance to speak to a doctor without leaving home. In partnership with AXA – Global Healthcare, The Local looks into this and some of the other ways in which digitalisation is reshaping healthcare. 

Five levels of cover to suit your needs – find out about AXA – Global Healthcare

How digital tech promotes healthcare at home

Many of us have already embraced technology when it comes to looking after our health and fitness. Wearable devices that track your steps, heart rate or sleep are no longer an oddity – you may check one before going to bed or as soon as you wake up.

The number of health apps you can choose to put on your smartphone is mind-boggling – at least 318,000 as of 2019. The rise of digital consultations with doctors and other health professionals is the latest example of technology bringing healthcare into the home.

According to a report by Deloitte, most healthcare will be delivered to patients at home or through “virtual, outpatient, and other settings” in 20 years from now.

It suggests this will come as healthcare focuses increasingly on helping individuals to stay healthy through tips on wellness and preventing illness. The long-term hope is that technological innovation will help make healthcare more efficient for everyone – patients, doctors, nurses and taxpayers.

Just what the virtual doctor ordered … 

In the digital era, life seems busier than ever for many of us. Luckily, a growing number of digital solutions also enable us to take care of crucial things remotely – and nothing is more crucial than healthcare.

It’s not surprising that people are attracted to the idea of on-demand access to highly qualified doctors – all without having to travel to a clinic or health centre and sit in a waiting room. 

Add in the option of speaking to a doctor in English (or perhaps even another preferred language) and availability around-the-clock, and it’s easy to see why apps and services offering doctor’s appointments are growing fast.

Speak to a doctor in a language of your choice 24/7 with the Virtual Doctor service from AXA 

You can get a diagnosis for you or your family member, advice on the next steps or even have a referral to a specialist arranged.

Photo: Getty Images

The global market for online doctor consultations is worth $3.9 billion in 2020 – but will quadruple to $16 billion in just six years, according to Global Market Estimates. 

These services include the Virtual Doctor service from AXA, which saw up to a 264 percent rise in registrations in a recent eight-month period*.

The app offers access to internationally qualified doctors over the phone 24/7 or via video consultation (between 8am and midnight UK time) for all individual and SME customers.

As well as offering diagnosis and referrals, doctors on the Virtual Doctor service can also provide e-prescriptions in many locations, when medically necessary and where regulations allow.

Moving faster into the future

While coronavirus has played a part in driving demand for online appointments this year, it’s clear that the change has longer term implications. The challenges of the pandemic may simply move us even faster towards more digital consultations in a way that was destined to happen before long anyway.

Digital technology is also changing medical treatment in a variety of other ways that could have significant benefits for patients. For instance, big data has the potential to alert health professionals to potential medication errors through software that can analyse a patient’s history. Another possible usage is in predicting hospital admission rates to help managers anticipate their required staffing levels.

What about virtual reality (VR)? This technology is already offering much more than just a video gamer’s idea of paradise. In healthcare, VR is already being used in innovative approaches to treating everything from pain to post-traumatic stress disorder.

* According to Advance Medial, the virtual doctor service provider, based on registrations from AXA – Global Healthcare members, with policies administered by AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Ltd between Dec 2019 and July 2020. 

Moving abroad or looking to boost your local healthcare coverage? Find out more about AXA – Global Healthcare’s international health insurance options

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and presented by AXA.

AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited. Registered in Ireland number 630468. Registered Office: Wolfe Tone House, Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited. Registered in England (No. 03039521). Registered Office: 20 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BG, United Kingdom. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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Why getting rescued in the Swiss Alps could cost you thousands

With holidays just around the corner, many mountain enthusiasts will be heading for the Alpine peaks. An important thing to remember is that even in the summer, accidents can happen and mountain rescue in Switzerland can come at a high price.

Why getting rescued in the Swiss Alps could cost you thousands

It is true that statistically most mishaps in the mountains are related to winter sports — skiing, snowboarding and the like.

About 50,000 accidents a year are recorded in the Swiss Alps each winter, “the vast majority of which are linked to skiing and snowboarding, the two disciplines that also generate the highest costs”, according to Swiss National Accident Insurance Fund (SUVA).

While summer mountain activities seem to be less risky, accidents can — and do — happen nevertheless. Again according to SUVA, such popular activities as base jumping, rock climbing, or hiking on unsteady surfaces can result in accidents.

In fact, the mere fact of just hiking can prove dangerous: every year, some people are attacked by cows while strolling in the mountains. One such case involved two hikers who were knocked to the ground by a cow in Nidwalden — an incident which inflicted bruises and shock on the hikers (the cow was fine).

But you don’t have to be an extreme sports enthusiast or approach cattle to sustain injuries in the mountains — just ask David, a UK national living in Vaud.

In July 2021, David rode his mountain bike near Arosa, Graubünden, when he hit a rock and fell into a metre-deep crack, breaking his foot in the process. Passersby called for help.

“A helicopter came and three people got me out of the ditch, stabilised me ,and airlifted me to the nearest hospital”, he said

The final bill just for the rescue amounted to 3,200 francs.

While it may seem like a steep price for a service that “took one hour tops”, this sum is not exorbitant or even unreasonable.

What you should know

Mountain rescues are generally provided by air ambulance services such as Rega, Air Glaciers or Air Zermatt. All three work on a subscription model, meaning people can become donors, which could, in certain cases, lower the cost of a rescue.

As Rega, the largest of the three services, noted on its website, it can, “at its own discretion and within the bounds of its resources, waive or reduce the costs of any emergency services”.

This was not the case for David who had no subscription, but has taken out one since the accident.

READ MORE: Rega: What you need to know about Switzerland’s air rescue service

Mountain biking can sometimes be dangerous. Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

The exact cost of the rescue varies according to three criteria, Rega spokesperson Emilie Pralong told Le Temps newspaper in an interview.

These criteria are “the duration of the mission, the transport costs (pilot, paramedic, helicopter), and the services of the emergency doctor”.

At a rate of around 100 francs per minute of flight, the bill can quickly skyrocket but in the easily accessible mountain area (as was the case for David) ranges from 2,500 to 3,500 francs charged to the patient.

Does health insurance bear at least part of these costs?

Unlike its Alpine neighbour Austria, where public health insurance will pay for mountain air rescue only if the patient is in danger of death, things are a bit different in Switzerland, where health insurance is private.

In Switzerland, the mandatory accident insurance paid by the employer covers the cost of rescues, even if you are not physically injured, according to Moneyland.ch consumer website.

On the other hand, for children, pensioners or people without professional activity, “the compulsory health insurance will cover half of rescue costs up to the maximum amount of 5,000 francs per calendar year,” said Pascal Vuistiner, spokesperson for Groupe Mutuel’s Romandie.

There are also additional insurance policies that will cover unpaid costs, including those incurred abroad, especially as the basic Swiss plan only covers rescues in Switzerland.

For instance, many supplemental health plans include some coverage for search and rescue costs, medical transportation, and repatriation.

Coverage for search and rescue operations is typically limited, ranging between 10,000 and 100,000 francs. Many (but not all) Swiss supplemental health insurance offers include unlimited coverage for ambulance transportation and repatriation to Switzerland for medical care.

READ MORE : Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?  

Coverage for search and rescue and/or emergency medical transportation is also part of many travel insurances.

However, “with very few exceptions, coverage for search and rescue operations is limited. Maximum benefits can be as low as just 5,000 francs, or as high as 60,000 francs”, according to Moneyland.

In David’s case, most of the costs of his airlift, surgery, hospital stay and post-op physical therapy were covered by the above-mentioned insurance policies. The only thing hurt in the long run is his pride, as this was the only fall the experienced mountain biker has suffered in his life.

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