Is Telehealth really the solution?
There is currently a lot of reporting in the press on “Telehealth” trials and how it could save the NHS £billions by remotely monitoring a patients condition. I suppose what they are intimating is it’s like having a nurse at the other end of the phone 24hrs a day 7 days a week. We do agree that this approach is a good addition to services for people with long term conditions that need managing however what a machine can’t help you with is the emotional isolation from information that a human can give. The output is black and white.
It is all well a good that these systems can save valuable resource in the long term however our opinion is that if clinicians become over reliant then patients will inevitably make mistakes, not be consistent how they use the telehealth system, a bit like forgetting to take your prescribed medicines and therefore you get to a “what’s the point in having it” as misinformation is worse than no information sometimes. You will also have the spectre of “Big Brother” looking over your shoulder. Many patients are brusied and battered with the torrent of information that they recieve and a lot of the time if this information is not delivered correctly it can be seen as “Big Brother” telling you what to do. The system is great for producing Health Data.
There is a place for “Telehealth” in the pathway to self management but it is only one element and should be treated as an information provider not as a golden solution. Unfortunatley the obsession with this system has led to yet another justification that it’s all about saving money.
Telehealth is a method of sending vital health data to medics without there commitment of being there with the patient where medication can be changed over the telephone etc etc. What is important is that these advances in sympton control must run along side the specialist nursing care. Managing Heart Failure symptons are not all about data. It is a combination of how you feel and how the data relates to you as an individual however this data acquired by the Telehealth system alerts the specialist nurses to issues and symptons more rapidly.
It has been suggested that Telehealth technologies can reduce mortality, hospital admissions, the number of bed days spent in hospital and the time spent in A&E, according to the initial findings of a study by the Department of Health.
Early indications have shown that, if used properly telehealth – a term for electronic sensors or equipment that monitors vital health signs remotely in a patient’s home, or while on the move – can deliver a 15% reduction in A&E visits and, say the Department of Health, a 45% reduction in deaths of those with long term conditions, such as diabetes or heart failure.
According to the findings, telehealth could reduce emergency admissions by 20%, elective admissions and bed days by 14%, and a reduction in tariff costs of 8%.
The department’s claims are based on the finding its whole system demonstrator programme, which was launched in May 2008 to show what telehealth and telecare were capable of and provide evidence to support investment decisions.
“The programme was one of the most complex trials ever undertaken by the Department of Health and will continue to provide useful information as the analysis continues, in particular we await the final results for telecare,” the department says.
“But we want to share the telehealth headlines now, to help as many people as possible, as early as possible.”
About 3 million people with long-term health conditions and social care needs could benefit from telehealth or telecare technologies, such as sensors at home which enable people to remain safe and live independently for longer. The department believes the key is to integrate these technologies into the care and services.
“Going forward this evidence gives us confidence that we can transform the way services are delivered and ensure that we use appropriate technology to put people at the centre, and in control,” says the department.
The programme involves 238 GP practices and nearly 6,200 patients across three sites in Newham, Kent and Cornwall. More than 30,000 people with either diabetes, heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were included in the telehealth trial.