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by Dominic Tyer
But care minister Paul Burstow warns it's not all about the technology
Widespread use of telehealth and telecare services in the UK could save the National Health Service (NHS) up to £1.2bn over five years, according to the government.
The UK has just run the world's randomised controlled trial of telehealth and telecare and has set its sights on improving the care of people with long term conditions, while alleviating their financial burden on the NHS.
This would come “by keeping people out of hospital, by reducing the time they're there when they have to be and by being far more targeted and efficient with the use of NHS resources,” minister of state for care services Paul Burstow told the international congress for telehealth and telecare yesterday.
But the said the process has to start with the patient and not with the technology.
“All too often, this is the reverse of what happens. Someone in a PCT sees a nifty piece of kit, buys a load in and then wonders why it ends up gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere.
“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 UK telehealth trial, known as the Whole System Demonstrator programme, used technology such as home-based equipment that sends details of at-risk patients' vital statistics directly to clinicians.
It involved 6,191 patients, 3,030 of whom had one of three conditions (diabetes, heart failure and COPD), and 238 GP practices across three sites in Newham, Kent and Cornwall.
In December it reported striking results, showing mortality rates were cut by 45 per cent, A&D visits were reduced by 15 per cent and emergency admissions fell by 20 per cent.
These findings were, Burstow said, “quite unexpected and truly extraordinary”, particularly given that “seven out of 10 in-patient beds are occupied by people with long term conditions”. The costs of this to the health service are considerable, working out at around 70p in every NHS pound.
The government now plans to massively extend the project and provide telehealth to three million people with long term conditions and/or social care needs over the next five years.