'Stop the denial and embrace telehealth', NHS doubters urged

Evidence base is undisputable, industry insiders tell critics

Healthcare professionals need to accept the evidence supporting the use of telecare and telehealth systems and begin to adopt a new approach to delivering services, market experts said.

At last week’s King’s Fund International Congress on Telehealth and Telecare in London, both government ministers and suppliers urged the healthcare community to embrace assistive technologies and take a lead in their deployment.

Perceived barriers to more widespread adoption have been a lack of evidence. The WSD has completely taken care of that and the evidence is now compelling

The comments come after continued claims that many healthcare workers feel the introduction of telehealth and telecare services will either cost jobs or put vulnerable patients at risk. They have also pointed to a lack of firm evidence on whether the technology improves patient outcomes or represents better value for money.

But, at the conference, doubters were told there was now a wealth of evidence to support telecare and telehealth and they were urged to break down the remaining barriers to deployment.

Care Services Minister, Paul Burstow, keynote speaker at the conference, pointed to the early results of the Government’s Whole System Demonstrator (WSD) initiative, the largest randomised controlled trial of telehealth in the world. It revealed that telehealth helped to reduce A&E visits among those with long-term conditions by 15%, reduced emergency hospital admissions by 20% and reduced elective admissions by 14%. More importantly, the trial, which involved 6,000 people over three UK sites, recorded a 45% drop in mortality rates, and constituted an 8% reduction in tariff cost.

He told delegates: “Perceived barriers to more widespread adoption have been a lack of evidence. The WSD has completely taken care of that and the evidence is now compelling. I hope we are inspired by this evidence and act on it if we want to make a huge impact on the lives of people in this country. We do not need further discussion about whether or not it works. We have done that and we know it is better for patients.

We do not need further discussion about whether or not it works. We have done that and we know it is better for patients

“It is quite simply about giving people back their lives, understanding their individual needs and providing intelligent technologies to help them maintain their independence and control over their health.

“It is a win for the NHS, a win for an industry, and a win for the patient.”

He said the findings from the WSD were now being peer reviewed and would be published in full later in the year. This evidence would then be widely shared across the UK and further afield, providing fresh impetus for adoption by the NHS and private sector. The Department of Health is also going to work with the NHS Institution and the royal colleges to draw up guidance on the use of telehealth and telecare and is keen to set standards that will support its deployment in particular patient pathways.

It’s about accepting the evidence is there and having the right care pathways in place to fully utilise telecare and telehealth

This approach is supported by academics involved in researching the impact of telehealth and telecare technologies.

At the conference, Professor Jeremy Wyatt, director of the new Institute of Digital Healthcare at Warwick University, and a professor of e-Health innovation, said: “We need to be building a library of appropriate standard services incorporating telehealth and telecare and laying out those care pathways where we predict we can use these technologies for at least 50% of patients. The creation of these standards needs to involve industry, GPs and nurses and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has a real role to play too. It’s about accepting the evidence is there and having the right care pathways in place to fully utilise telecare and telehealth.”

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