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Online doctors, healthcare services provided via smartphone apps, have gone from being peripheral to seriously challenge the conventional way of providing healthcare in Sweden. Through two online surveys, this study investigated whether the respondents perceived the Swedish online doctor Kry as a fair healthcare service and how these perceptions influenced their will to use the service.
Swedish law provides that healthcare should strive towards equal care for the entire population and be guided, for instance, by the needs principle, which states that those in most need of care should receive care first. However, through political and legal reforms during the last decade or two, healthcare has been reformed into a quasi-market with free choice as a guiding principle. Influenced by critical realism and Alan Norrie's sociology of law, it is showed that these reforms have introduced a conflict between the individual’s right to choose freely, and the requirement for healthcare to make priorities based on needs, solidarity, and cost-effectiveness. Swedish online doctors as a phenomenon have emerged in this context.
Unlike the health system at large, online doctors are well equipped for healthcare guided by free choice and which is becoming increasingly consumer-driven. It is argued that the survey respondents perceive the Kry experience in a way that resembles the experience of online shopping. Online doctors accommodate free choice, the right to receive healthcare when one demands it, but they do not seem to contribute to a more equal healthcare for the entire population. This discrepancy between ethical principles is built into the Swedish health system and Swedish healthcare law.
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Peter Bergwall is a doctor of sociology of law. He earned his doctoral degree at the Sociology of Law Department, Lund University, in 2021. His thesis "Exploring Paths of Justice in the Digital Healthcare: A Socio-Legal Study of Swedish Online Doctors" investigates healthcare services provided via smartphone apps.