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Doctors on demand: why digital healthcare is great news for expats

When you live abroad, one of the biggest challenges is working out the local healthcare system. You may be unsure how to arrange to see a doctor – or short of time to squeeze in an appointment once you’ve found out.

Doctors on demand: why digital healthcare is great news for expats
Photo: Getty Images

Even once you’re face-to-face with a doctor, you may still be worried about a potential language barrier or your lack of local knowledge. It’s hardly what you want when making a medical appointment becomes one more source of stress.

Now, however, digitalisation is rapidly changing healthcare – and offering international residents the chance to speak to a doctor without leaving home. In partnership with AXA – Global Healthcare, The Local looks into this and some of the other ways in which digitalisation is reshaping healthcare. 

Five levels of cover to suit your needs – find out about AXA – Global Healthcare

How digital tech promotes healthcare at home

Many of us have already embraced technology when it comes to looking after our health and fitness. Wearable devices that track your steps, heart rate or sleep are no longer an oddity – you may check one before going to bed or as soon as you wake up.

The number of health apps you can choose to put on your smartphone is mind-boggling – at least 318,000 as of 2019. The rise of digital consultations with doctors and other health professionals is the latest example of technology bringing healthcare into the home.

According to a report by Deloitte, most healthcare will be delivered to patients at home or through “virtual, outpatient, and other settings” in 20 years from now.

It suggests this will come as healthcare focuses increasingly on helping individuals to stay healthy through tips on wellness and preventing illness. The long-term hope is that technological innovation will help make healthcare more efficient for everyone – patients, doctors, nurses and taxpayers.

Just what the virtual doctor ordered … 

In the digital era, life seems busier than ever for many of us. Luckily, a growing number of digital solutions also enable us to take care of crucial things remotely – and nothing is more crucial than healthcare.

It’s not surprising that people are attracted to the idea of on-demand access to highly qualified doctors – all without having to travel to a clinic or health centre and sit in a waiting room. 

Add in the option of speaking to a doctor in English (or perhaps even another preferred language) and availability around-the-clock, and it’s easy to see why apps and services offering doctor’s appointments are growing fast.

Speak to a doctor in a language of your choice 24/7 with the Virtual Doctor service from AXA 

You can get a diagnosis for you or your family member, advice on the next steps or even have a referral to a specialist arranged.

Photo: Getty Images

The global market for online doctor consultations is worth $3.9 billion in 2020 – but will quadruple to $16 billion in just six years, according to Global Market Estimates. 

These services include the Virtual Doctor service from AXA, which saw up to a 264 percent rise in registrations in a recent eight-month period*.

The app offers access to internationally qualified doctors over the phone 24/7 or via video consultation (between 8am and midnight UK time) for all individual and SME customers.

As well as offering diagnosis and referrals, doctors on the Virtual Doctor service can also provide e-prescriptions in many locations, when medically necessary and where regulations allow.

Moving faster into the future

While coronavirus has played a part in driving demand for online appointments this year, it’s clear that the change has longer term implications. The challenges of the pandemic may simply move us even faster towards more digital consultations in a way that was destined to happen before long anyway.

Digital technology is also changing medical treatment in a variety of other ways that could have significant benefits for patients. For instance, big data has the potential to alert health professionals to potential medication errors through software that can analyse a patient’s history. Another possible usage is in predicting hospital admission rates to help managers anticipate their required staffing levels.

What about virtual reality (VR)? This technology is already offering much more than just a video gamer’s idea of paradise. In healthcare, VR is already being used in innovative approaches to treating everything from pain to post-traumatic stress disorder.

* According to Advance Medial, the virtual doctor service provider, based on registrations from AXA – Global Healthcare members, with policies administered by AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Ltd between Dec 2019 and July 2020. 

Moving abroad or looking to boost your local healthcare coverage? Find out more about AXA – Global Healthcare’s international health insurance options

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and presented by AXA.

AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited. Registered in Ireland number 630468. Registered Office: Wolfe Tone House, Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited. Registered in England (No. 03039521). Registered Office: 20 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BG, United Kingdom. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are Switzerland's rules for cannabis consumption?

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?

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