Telemedicine on the rise in Austria?
Seven out of the 328 pages of the new green/conservative government's programme are dedicated to the health sector. One bullet point on this programme for the next five years is to implement telemedicine treatment in the best possible way. The government further explains that it aims to promote digitalisation in diagnosis, treatment and medical research and thus strengthen Austria as a health hub.
Telemedicine is not prohibited in Austria. However, the Austrian Physicians Act stipulates that physicians must exercise the profession personally and directly. The question is what "directly" means in this context. Opinions differ on whether physicians may treat patients remotely, for example via videocalls, or whether they may only treat patients who are physically present, where they can perform a physical exam if needed.
The Austrian Medical Chamber has taken the view that it is the physician's responsibility to decide when telemedical services are permitted and when they are not. Health professionals are uncertain about what kind of remote services they can offer, and are hesitant to develop, implement and offer telemedical services at all. Understandably, no one wants to be told by a court that in a particular case the patient should not have been diagnosed or treated remotely.
Currently, individual physicians decide what kind of services they can and want to render via telemedicine but lack legal certainty. A legal clarification or even clear guidelines would be appreciated by health professionals and lawyers alike.