Telemedicine, sustainable evolution of healthcare. But is Italy ready?

Launching in January 2024

Medicine is about to make a leap forward into the future, but not everyone knows it yet and it is not certain that Italy is ready. There challenge to be addressed is that of a new approach to a series of basic services already offered in the pharmacy instead of by the general practitioner and which should, if carried out in telemedicine, facilitate the work and performance of all operators in the sector. In other words, we are talking about a not so distant future which, starting from January, will introduce a first form of experimentation and then become official in June 2024 and, by 2025, consolidate itself throughout the national territory.

But what is it? Let’s find out together.


To provide a definition more or less clear what is meant by the term “Telemedicine” are the national guidelines from the Ministry of Health: “Telemedicine means a method of providing health care services, through the use of innovative technologies, in particular Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), in situations in which the professional of health and the patient (or two professionals) are not in the same location”.

“Telemedicine – continues the document – ​​involves the secure transmission of medical information and data in the form of texts, sounds, images or other forms necessary for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and subsequent monitoring of patients. Telemedicine services must be assimilated to any diagnostic/therapeutic health service. However, Telemedicine provision does not replace traditional healthcare provision in the personal doctor-patient relationship, but integrates it to potentially improve effectiveness, efficiency and appropriateness. Telemedicine must also comply with all the rights and obligations of any healthcare act”.

The cost on Italian healthcare

The cost of telemedicine on Italian healthcare can be calculated both in economic terms and in terms of social sustainability. The economic burden of operating health systems absorbs 10.3% of the EU’s national GDP. In Italy, it corresponds to 9.1%. A figure destined to increase if we take into account the demographic winter that our nation is experiencing and the increase in chronic diseases with the increase in the average Italian age.

An increase in the population over the age of 65 is estimated at 34% in 2051. This will lead to a growth in demand for home care services, whether public or private and, therefore, also for telemedicine.

A first calculation on what the cost of telemedicine could be for our nation was carried out by the Doctors’ Assistance and Welfare Agency which already in 2012 predicted a saving of three billion euros per year for the use of digital tools aimed at dehospitalizing patients. Just as many figures can be obtained from the savings in nursing activity times thanks to the introduction of the electronic medical record; the dematerialisation of reports and images; the reduction of hospitalizations resulting from errors that can be avoided with IT systems.

With the pandemic, some form of telemedicine was experimented and found to be prepared for the challenge, but not at the same speed throughout the territory. In fact, even at a health level, Italy is traveling at different speeds between GDP, transport, services, economy, tourism, due to an initial evident gap between North and South and a second, less well-known gap between large cities and small ones that pay the price of not having basic infrastructure.

The challenge of Telemedicine

There is talk of a real challenge that Italy will be forced to face: finding a balance between what needs to be done to fulfill the duties that the European community requires of us and what the Bel Paese needs in terms of spending support public and use of resources.

This challenge has already been partially won by a good percentage of pharmacies. A’Federfarma investigation, in fact, reveals that, as regards the ECG, the Italian average of pharmacies that provide the service is 52%, with 32% of pharmacies declaring themselves willing to implement it within their business. Almost half of Italian pharmacies offer blood pressure (50%) and cardiac (46%) Holter services, while among the four services investigated, spirometry is the least widespread among Italian pharmacies: only 8% of they currently provide it, with 56% declaring themselves willing to introduce it into their business. These diagnostic tests involve remote reporting, carried out in real time and certified by medical specialists. Federfarma, with the support of the IT services company Promofarma, promoted the provision of telemedicine services in the network of associated pharmacies and the project saw a progressive increase in membership across the national territory, also favored by the Pnrr measures dedicated to pharmacies rural.

In particular, only in the strictly socio-health and medical field, what will have to be addressed concerns:

• Improve the training of medical and nursing staff capable of following patients in the various departments;

• Disseminate the guidelines for the correct treatment of difficult wounds through the means made available through scientific journals, targeted events, guidelines offered by the scientific community;

• Inform family doctors about local hospital references to frame diagnoses and therapies in a context of re-education on basic tools.

In summary, to answer the initial question, namely whether or not Italy is ready to face this challenge, one could say ‘Yes’ if one looks at the recent past and ‘No’ if one considers tools provided to date in the hands of citizens and sector operators. What are the consequences? Everything still to be determined.