On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak as a pandemic, with over 720,000 cases reported in more than 203 countries as of 31 March. The response strategy included early diagnosis, patient isolation, symptomatic monitoring of contacts as well as suspected and confirmed cases, and public health quarantine. In this context, telemedicine, particularly video consultations, has been promoted and scaled up to reduce the risk of transmission, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Based on a literature review, the first conceptual framework for telemedicine implementation during outbreaks was published in 2015. An updated framework for telemedicine in the COVID-19 pandemic has been defined. This framework could be applied at a large scale to improve the national public health response. Most countries, however, lack a regulatory framework to authorize, integrate, and reimburse telemedicine services, including in emergency and outbreak situations. In this context, Italy does not include telemedicine in the essential levels of care granted to all citizens within the National Health Service, while France authorized, reimbursed, and actively promoted the use of telemedicine. Several challenges remain for the global use and integration of telemedicine into the public health response to COVID-19 and future outbreaks. All stakeholders are encouraged to address the challenges and collaborate to promote the safe and evidence-based use of telemedicine during the current pandemic and future outbreaks. For countries without integrated telemedicine in their national health care system, the COVID-19 pandemic is a call to adopt the necessary regulatory frameworks for supporting wide adoption of telemedicine.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; coronavirus; digital health; digital medicine; outbreak; pandemic; public health; surveillance; telehealth; telemedicine.
©Robin Ohannessian, Tu Anh Duong, Anna Odone. Originally published in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance (http://publichealth.jmir.org), 02.04.2020.