Use, Cost, and Digital Divide in Online Public Health Care: Lessons from Denmark
The purpose of this paper is to enhance the knowledge about the use of online communication between patients and health-care professionals in public health care. The study explores digital divide gaps and the impacts of online communication on the overall costs of health care.
This study focuses on online health care in Denmark. The authors rely on population data from 3,500 e-visits (e-mail consultations) between patients and general practitioners (GPs) from 2009 to 2015. Additionally, they include survey data on the use of the internet to search for health-related information.
The analysis of the Danish data reveals a rapid uptake in the use of the internet to search for health-related information and a three-fold increase in e-visits from 2009 to 2015. The results show that the digital divide gaps exist also in the online health-care communication. Further, the study findings suggest that enforced supply of online communication between GPs and patients does not alleviate the costs. Rather, the number of visits to GPs has not been decreased significantly and health-care costs showing a marginal increase.
Further data should be collected and analyzed to explore the impacts of other institutional factors and population cohort on the digital divide and healthcare costs. Also, it is difficult to estimate whether the increased use of online health care in the long run lead to lowering overall health-care costs. While the internal validity of the study is high due to the use of population data, the external validity is lower as the study results are based on the data collected in Denmark only.
The study offers important input for practice. First, leaders in government might reconsider how they can control the health-care costs when opening online channels for communication between patients and doctors. Second, concerns about digital divide issues remains, but the study suggests that the uptake of e-visits does not widen the socio-economic, gender or age gaps. For health policy concern, this is encouraging news to lead to an increasing push of online communication.
The dynamics of online health-care communication may lead to mixed results and unexpected impacts on overall health-care costs.
The paper offers new insights in the impacts of mandatory supply of digital services. The Danish push-strategy has led to an enforced supply of e-visits and a rapid growing use of the online health care without widening digital divide but at the risk of potential increasing the overall costs.
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