Government needs to drive technology adoption, conference hears

Cross-party commitment and structural change needed to ensure adoption of telecare and telehealth

The 3rd Annual International Congress on Telehealth and Telecare heard there was a need for increased support at government level to ensure future adoption of innovative technologies

A cross-party commitment by this and future Governments to support telecare and telehealth adoption is needed to prevent a ‘major national crisis’, experts have claimed.

And health organisations need to learn from best practice and drive structural change in order to be efficient in the future.

The NHS recently commemorated its 65th birthday, and speakers at the recent 3rd Annual International Congress on Telehealth and Telecare , told delegates that commitment across the political spectrum to consistent, longer-term healthcare policies was the only way to ensure the NHS is well-equipped to deliver effective, affordable healthcare for the next 65 years.

Defining an approach that can optimise the use of innovative tools and technologies at a policy level could give healthcare stakeholders the security they need to make the progressive changes required, they added.

We have a major national crisis in England and it won’t be resolved without clear leadership on policy

Professor Stanton Newman, professor of health psychology at London’s City University and a specialist on the management of chronic diseases, said: “We have a major national crisis in England and it won’t be resolved without clear leadership on policy. Making decisions across election cycles is fundamental for long-term planning in healthcare to address the ageing agenda. Ideology needs to be set aside and we need to participate in a cross-party discussion about healthcare.”

Other speakers explained how in their regions, committing to longer-term health policies, which are being upheld by successive governments, is helping them modernise their own over-stretched health and social care systems.

Professor George Crooks, medical director for Scotland’s NHS 24 service, said: “In Scotland there was a change in government, but the policy has stayed consistent.” NHS health boards, local authorities and health professionals in Scotland have signed up to a National Delivery Plan that involves redesigning the health and social care system to leverage the improved outcomes and economic benefits that technologies like telehealth and telecare can offer.

“Our political leaders are not making major policy decisions about health and social care systems based on politics.”

Dr Rafael Bengoa was Minister for Health in the Basque Government, Spain, as an independent with the social democrat party which was later replaced by the centre-right nationalist PNV in elections in 2012. This new government has committed to many of the health and social care policies which had been introduced previously.

He said: “In my country, the new government is continuing the transformative agenda. There is a logic in getting beyond political parties especially if you are undertaking a mid-term disruptive transformative agenda and unleashing organisational innovation in the organisation. It implies a collaborative mindset and collaborative leadership among different political groups. This will enable cultural change to happen faster.”

To create strong policies to support the NHS of the future, experts agreed that collaboration between health professionals, academics, users of health and social care services and the private sector is essential. It will be difficult to make progress, they acknowledged, without the co-operation of all of these groups in defining best practice.

ACT will identify the key drivers and after a two-year period will be able to generate a ‘cook book’ that will help other regions transform more easily

The Advancing care co-ordination and Telehealth Deployment (ACT) programme, led by Philips Healthcare, co-sponsor of the congress is one such collaboration. Pursuing a cross-party approach to healthcare has enabled Scotland and the Basque country to participate in this new EU-funded programme that is investigating the optimum ways of working with new technologies and how they can be embedded structurally to improve outcomes and increase efficiency.

Along with three other regions - Lombardy in Italy, Catalonia in Spain and Groningen in the Netherlands - ACT will capture the whole process of care and delivery in each region and establish how to secure active participation from both clinicians and users of health and social care services.

Chris Westerteicher, business director of Philips Hospital to Home and Telehealth International services told delegates: “The ACT programme is the first of its kind in Europe. It’s not about technology, it’s about structural change and defining best-practice. The technology has been around for some time but in order to integrate it we need a chain of events to happen first. ACT will identify the key drivers and after a two-year period will be able to generate a ‘cook book’ that will help other regions transform more easily.”

Professor Newman added: “In the UK, we need to learn how to scale things up. We already have effective projects in healthcare and next we need policy and leadership. It would be naïve to put in telehealth without transformation so we need to begin managing change now.”

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