Digital Health

A Country Doctor in a Backpack

telearzt dpa
Getting to grips with telemedicine in Dresden.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    As the number of doctors decreases in Germany, there aren’t enough to properly care for the aging population in rural areas.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and digital tools to provide healthcare to rural communities.
    • German doctors resisted the concept for many years, fearing they would lose patients.
    • Many healthcare professionals now think telemedicine can help in rural areas, where shrinking numbers of doctors are struggling to meet patients’ needs.
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  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

Forests, lakes, and dozens of tranquil villages mark the scenic landscape in the Oberbergisch District in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. On the weekends, day-trippers from nearby Cologne come here to relax. But for country doctor Thomas Assmann, life here is pure stress.

“I often drive 40 kilometers to visit a single sick person,” he said. Mr. Assmann likes to make home visits, but the 52-year-old general practitioner has grown weary of all the driving. It costs precious time that he would rather spend with patients, he said.

So the doctor and his assistant, Frauke von Wirtz, cooked up an alternative: She makes the home visits, driving from patient to patient with telemedicine devices from the e-health company Vitaphone in her backpack.

Then she transmits data such as heart rate, respiratory volume or blood sugar via a secure data connection to the doctor’s office. In principle, she can connect any medical device using Bluetooth with her laptop. If she gets stuck, she connects her boss via video conference.

“That’s my trump card,” said Ms. von Wirtz. “I have the doctor in my bag.”

Their initiative has now been developed into Tele-Landarzt, which translates to Tele-Country Doctor, the first project of its kind in Germany. Set to launch on Oct. 1, it already has the support of the German association of general practitioners, and plans to enlist health insurers to help cover costs — which might the biggest challenge of all.

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