O2 Health launches UK's first mobile telecare solution

Help at Hand will take the benefits of telecare outside patients' homes

As part of the Help at Hand system, patients wear a wristwatch or pendant, which connects to a UK alarm receiving centre

Just 18 months after breaking into the healthcare market, O2 Health has launched the UK's first mobile telecare device.

Help at Hand aims to expand telecare support beyond the boundaries of a patient’s home, giving people with long-term conditions the freedom and support they need to go about their daily lives.

The service, which costs a flat rate of £20 per person, per month, equips patients with a wristwatch or pendant, which has an alarm function. When activated, the alarm connects the patient to a UK-based receiving centre where staff are trained to summon help or give advice. Help at Hand also includes a secure website, where patients can personalise the service, adding the details of key contacts and other vital information.

Officially unveiling the system at this week’s King’s Fund International Congress on Telehealth and Telecare in London, Keith Nurcombe, managing director of O2 Health, said: “We are in an environment where the NHS needs to be as effective and efficient as it can be and there is a greater need than ever to deliver healthcare that’s better and more cost effective.

“Help at Hand takes the benefits of fixed telecare and makes it completely mobile. It takes the reassurance and comfort wherever a patient goes, whether at work or shopping.”

This is game-changing technology and a very exciting step forward for telecare

Product marketing manager, Jake Griffiths, added: “This is game-changing technology and a very exciting step forward for telecare.”

The solution has been launched following several pilots and uses a Vega and SmartlinQ wristwatch or pendant. Among the functions these can perform is to identify when a person has had a fall. This could prove vital in the case of someone with epilepsy or dementia, for example. GPS technology can also be used to set a geographical zone which will sound an alarm if the patient goes into or out of a particular area. Again, this could prove useful in the case of a patient with Alzheimer’s or dementia who may be prone to wandering.

Griffiths said: “Behind what are pretty easy-to-use devices lies some really powerful technology. Each organisation can set it up exactly as they want it. It is about knowing that there is someone there if you need help, but being able to go about your daily life.”

The introduction of Help at Hand is being seen as a major step forward in the delivery of telecare and telehealth in the UK as currently only 1% of devices are mobile.

Trevor Single, chief executive of the Telecare Services Association, said: “There needs to be new ways to reach out to service users and to meet their needs and expectations. Mobile technology is a great opportunity for taking that forward. We have got to move away from fixed-line technology and into the community.

“Most of us are familiar with seeing people with a pendant around their neck and that is what the current perception of telehealth and telecare is. We need to show that it’s much more than that. It’s not just about addressing risks and needs, but moving towards giving patients greater independence.”

Leeds City Council trialled Help at Hand last year as part of a telecare service it has been operating since 2006. The local authority was particularly keen to test the impact of the GPS safe zone alerts.

Commenting on the findings, programme leader, Marianne Howard, said: “With the mobile-enabled GPS provision, customers can do what they want, when they want to, without having to book or utilise support time from local health and social care workers. The mobile devices allow the Leeds Telecare Service to develop its service further and offer customers what is essentially a pendant alarm system when they are not just in their home. It gives the customers the peace of mind that they can call for assistance easily and be found promptly, enabling them to maintain their independence and choice.”

Early results show a feeling of increased independence among patients, a reduction in the likelihood of users needing to move into sheltered housing or residential care, and an improvement in the experiences and wellbeing of carers.

Devon Partnership NHS Trust also rolled out the technology last year. Tobit Emmens, managing partner for research and development at the trust, said: “Allowing patients to be more in control, particularly in a mental health setting, is extremely important.”

It is about knowing that there is someone there if you need help, but being able to go about your daily life

Again the GPS tracking system was of particular interest to the organisations, particularly in its suicide reduction efforts.

Emmens explained: “In Devon we have places where people go to take their lives. Through conversations with patients we found that when entering into an area that holds difficult memories, it sometimes presents opportunities to make unhealthy decisions. The challenge we faced was how we might work with our patients as they interacted with the environments they were in, while ensuring that we didn’t encroach on their personal liberty. GPS tracking seemed like a really logical step.

“Using Help at Hand felt like a real breakthrough. The healthcare team was able to speak directly to the patient to talk through the decisions they were making before the situation escalated to something more serious.”

Another of the sites in Devon to pilot the system was the regional forensic unit, which provides services for people with mental health problems who have come into contact with the criminal justice system. The challenge it faced was tracking a patient’s movements when they left the facility.

It gives the customers the peace of mind that they can call for assistance easily and be found promptly, enabling them to maintain their independence and choice

While the results of the Devon pilot have not yet been fully collated, Emmens said: “Patients have talked about the increased confidence they had in themselves going out and about their normal day-to-day activities. If a crisis emerged, when normally they wouldn’t be able to deal with it, they could call for help. Many felt their confidence was boosted through being able to deal with the situation there and then, to access the healthcare team when they wanted to and to actually get through the day without the crisis escalating into something much more significant.”

Currently the system runs on O2’s network and does rely on being able to get coverage. Like with mobile phones, the pendants do tell the user how much reception they are getting, but in the future, Nurcombe said there was also the potential to use roaming SIMS.

The product will be available from the end of this month to NHS trusts and local authorities and a private over-the-counter version will be available for private customers by the end of the year.

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