02.02.2013, von Sophie Curtis
The Swiss healthcare system is facing a crisis. Fifty-seven percent of its general practitioners are over the age of 55, and new doctors coming up through the system are increasingly choosing to go into specialist roles, so there are not enough new GPs to compensate for the number of retirements that will take place over the next ten years.
GP practices in Switzerland are currently trying to fill their vacancies with foreign doctors from France, Germany and Italy, but this is not a long-term strategy, and over time the supply of qualified GPs will continue to dwindle. The healthcare industry has therefore decided to pilot a new approach, called netCare, which enables the provision of telemedicine services in pharmacies.
netCare is the result of a collaboration between pharmaSuisse (Switzerland's association of pharmacists), Medgate (Switzerland's centre for telemedicine), and the medical and accident insurer Helsana. With the help of Cisco and communications provider Swisscom, they have equipped 200 pharmacies in Switzerland with Cisco TelePresence video communication systems.
At the Cisco Live conference in London this week, Cisco's general manager for Switzerland Eric Waltert explained that pharmacists in his country are educated to the same level as GPs, but they are not allowed to sell certain medications without prescription.
Using the new TelePresence systems - which consist of a Cisco EX90 system equipped with a microphone, a camera and a 24-inch full-HD display - patients can receive an initial consultation (triage) with a physician over a video link at a pharmacy.
When a patient enters the pharmacy, they are first assessed by the pharmacist using one of 20 "algorithms" developed by Medgate. These algorithms are effectively flow charts for different medical conditions - such as back pain, conjunctivitis, or a bladder infection - providing a very structured process for diagnosing the problem.