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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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Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

The alpine country has a few peculiarities in its health system - starting with the fact that it is mandatory to be insured. Here's an overview.

Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

When it comes to Austria’s health system, a few things always surprise foreigners. For example, unlike some other countries, like the United States, Brazil, or India, residents in Austria are obliged to have public health insurance.

Enrolment is generally automatic and linked to employment. A vast majority of workers are insured by ÖGK through their employer. Still, many, such as self-employed people, will have their insurance with SVS or BVAEB, in the case of public servants.  

Insurance is also guaranteed to co-insured persons, such as spouses and dependents, pensioners, students, disabled people, and those receiving unemployment benefits.

“People are surprised about the amount of different health insurance providers, all of which are part of the public system”, says Miglena Hofer, senior legal counsel at Austria For Beginners

The Local spoke to her and Severina Ditzov, also a senior legal counsel with the company focusing on easing the integration process of expats and their families, to understand a few of the things that can be most surprising about the health care system for those coming into Austria. 

Different insurers, different systems

Austrian health care is universal, and contributions are mandatory – with few exceptions. However, one thing that will surprise many people is that your insurance fund can differ depending on your occupation.

READ ALSO: What is Austria’s e-card? Everything you need to know

For example, most people in the country are insured by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK), with about 7.4 million insured people in Austria (some 82 per cent of the population). 

However, civil or public servants, miners, and persons employed with the federal railways are insured by BVAEB. According to the company, more than 1.1 million people in Austria are insured with it. 

Additionally, the self-employed, freelancers and farmers will be insured by SVS

There is also the General Accident Insurance Fund (AUVA) for accident insurance and the pension fund Pension Insurance Fund (PVA), to which all residents contribute. 

“People are, of course, surprised to find out that each provider offers different coverage”, highlights Miglena. This means that not every doctor will work with all ÖGK, SVS, and BVAEB, for example. Therefore, it’s essential to check whether the doctors you are going to work with your insurer.

Even more, the insurers might cover different things or pay in different ways. “Some of the public insurances, like SVS and BVA, have self participation. The fund will cover 90 per cent of the treatment, and the rest will be paid by the patient”, Severina explains.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How freelancers in Austria can pay four times less in social insurance

This can be particularly surprising for people changing insurers, for example, those who went from being formally employed by a company with ÖGK to being a self-employed person insured with SVS.

On top of that, people can have private insurance

Austria works with a two-tier system, so besides the mandatory public insurance, residents can also have their own private policies. 

So, additionally, from the public contribution to the state funds, they can pay private companies to provide health care policies too. Doctors can also choose to work with public or only private patients – or both.

“Public doctors may also have private practices, and they are not obligated to have them in two different places”, says Severina.

“It is very common that the doctor works as a public doctor on Mondays and Wednesdays and private doctor on Tuesday and Friday, or private before noon and the public after 12pm, for example”. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

A receptionist would need to tell the patient beforehand if the examination will be private or not, and the information should also be available online, but sometimes they forget to inform, or the person doesn’t correctly check and gets thoroughly surprised when receiving a bill at the end of the consultation.

There is also a difference between Wahlarzt and a Privatarzt. “While both are private doctors, you only get partially reimbursed by the public insurance if you go to a Wahlarzt”, Miglena clarifies. 

A different style of medicine

The style of the consultations can also be shocking to foreigners. 

“Austrian doctors, especially those working with public insurance, are not very empathic or chatty”, Miglena says. “During your appointment, you hardly speak to the doctor as they jump from one room to another”, she adds.  

It is not rare for consultations to last just a few minutes, a drastic change for people from South America, for example, where doctors sometimes spend 30 to 60 minutes talking to patients. 

Another substantial difference is that Austrian medicine is very much focused on prevention and natural remedies, with many doctors prescribing teas and exercise to patients used to getting prescriptions for anxiety and sleeping pills in the United States, for example. 

Pollyanna, a Brazilian who has been living in Vienna for four years, tells how she had difficulties finding a prescription to take the medicine she was used to and that helped her sleep: “The doctor didn’t even want me to take melatonin, let alone my usual prescription medicine”.

Her husband, who is an American, went through a similar situation and felt the difference between doctors in the United States and in Austria.

This style of medicine, one that focuses on prevention and self-recovery, makes it common for people with the flu to be sent home with the recommendation to rest and also creates one of the most unusual things for many expats in Austria: the fact that the public healthcare system will cover a weeks-long stay at a spa.

The expert advice

If any of these quirks, especially the quick consultations with long waiting times, bothers you, you might want to invest in additional private insurance, according to the expert lawyers.

“Sadly, one gets treated way better if they have private insurance”, Miglena says. “Suddenly, every doctor speaks English and is friendly to you, looks you in the eyes, and doesn’t mind answering your questions in detail”. 

“With public insurance, one has to wait for approximately four to eight weeks for examination with a specialist; private insurance can get you faster appointments,” Severina adds.

If you are looking for a doctor – private or not- Austria’s DocFinder.at is a good tool with filters to help you find a doctor based on your insurer or which languages they speak.

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