Healthy living

Three million people could benefit from telehealth

Up to three million people could benefit from telehealth, minister claims Patients monitor own vital signs at home

Some three million people with long-term health problems could potentially manage their health remotely by 2017, it has been claimed.

In a speech at the King's Fund international congress on telehealth and telecare, Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat MP and minister of state for care services, said that up to £1.2 billion over five years could be saved in the NHS if telehealth and telecare was more widely available for people suffering from long-term health conditions.

Telehealth technologies include equipment which allows patients to monitor their own blood pressure, lung function or blood glucose levels. The information gathered is automatically sent to the doctor, who can contact the patients if there are any concerns.

Telehealth technology could help people living with conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), live more independent lives, stay in control of their care and spend less time waiting for doctors or nurses to check their vital signs, Burstow said.

Telecare equipment, which includes personal alarms to alert family or healthcare professionals of an emergency, would also enable people to live at home for longer.

An estimated 15 million people in England have long-term medical conditions, a figure that is expected to rise as the population ages.

Depending on the severity of their condition, their quality of life can be significantly compromised by frequent doctor and hospital visits.

"The widespread adoption of telehealth and telecare as part of an integrated care plan will mean better quality of care and greater independence for people with long-term conditions," Burstow said.

"This new approach is not about the technology, it is about a revolution in personalised healthcare that can improve the lives of three million people, increase their independence and dignity as well as reduce the time they spend in hospital," he added.

A two-year trial by the Department of Health looking at how technology can help people manage their own health and maintain independence has shown significant results, Burstow told the conference.

The Whole System Demonstrator programme (WSD), involving 6,000 patients, is one of the largest trials of telehealth in the world and was carried out in Cornwall, Kent and Newham.

So far, results from the WSD programme have shown a 20 per cent fall in emergency admissions, 15 per cent fewer visits to A&E and 14 per cent fewer bed days.

Burstow also pointed out that there was an “extraordinary” 45 per cent difference in mortality rates between those using telehealth and those in the control group who did not.

By using technology to monitor the vital signs of people with long-term health conditions, medics are alerted to untoward changes in advance and can alter care accordingly.

Burstow said: "Good telehealth or telecare is not about technology, it’s about people. Empowering people to live their lives as independently as they can.

"Technology can play an important role in that. But it will only ever fulfil its potential if it is integrated into a properly designed patient care plan. If it supports what a particular individual actually needs."

The cost implications to the NHS of patients with long-term conditions is significant. Currently about 70p out of every NHS pound is spent looking after long term patients and seven out of ten in-patient beds are taken up by them.

This article was published on Thu 8 March 2012

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