Working Paper No. 1238

Telemedicine and the Welfare State: The Swedish Experience

Published: October 9, 2018Pages: 24Keywords: Primary health care; Telemedicine; Welfare state; Digitalization; Privatization; Outsourcing.JEL-codes: H75; I11; I18

Telemedicine and the Welfare State: The Swedish Experience Mårten Blix and Johanna Jeansson


Sweden combines a vibrant market economy with a large public sector. This combination of public and private also characterizes the country’s comprehensive tax-financed welfare services. More than one-third of primary health care is today produced in the private sector. This substantial share has broad implications for how digitalization reshapes those welfare services.

In this paper, we focus on how telemedicine is set to transform primary health care in Sweden, where doctors have been available via video calls on smartphone apps since 2016. The novel element in Swedish health care is that the doctors are available as a public welfare service but by private providers. With some exceptions, patients pay a small fee, but most of the cost is borne by the tax-payers.

While the benefits of telemedicine are many – such as easier access to doctors and a reduction of non-essential travel – the downside for public finances is that the demand for care, and hence costs, may increase dramatically. As telemedicine becomes more popular, the tensions in regards to financing and regulation are already in evidence and look set to rise further. We outline steps that could better integrate telemedicine into the health care system.

Interdisciplinary European Studies

The European Union in a Changing World Order

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This book explores how the European Union responds to the ongoing challenges to the liberal international order. These challenges arise both within the EU itself and beyond its borders, and put into question the values of free trade and liberal democracy. 

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