Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Not good news for the TeleHealth Industry

The UK's largest trial (1000 patients in three NHS area) of the economic benefits of TeleHealth concluded that : "it does not seem to be a cost-effective addition to standard support and treatment.”

You can read the journalist take on the report in the Telegraph -"Budget for NHS cost-cutting scheme to triple" You can read the full report from the BMJ titled Cost effectiveness of telehealth for patients with long term conditions (Whole Systems Demonstrator telehealth questionnaire study).

Whatever way you want to read the research, the message is clear. TeleHealth does not provide the financial savings, or the improvments in the patient's medical condition) that so many people had hoped for.

This is not to say it never will, but this phase of the technology and the systems that support it are not cut cutting the mustard. This will come as one hell of blow to the industry that had hoped for great rewards from the technology.

It is sad to see yet another Government in the UK fall head over heals in love with a technology that they don't understand, expecting to generate great financial savings. The same happened with the previous government that thought automating patient records would be the answer to the NHS's prayers.

I guess when you have politicians and civil servants who know nothing of technology, medicine or care then we should not be surprised.

Tucked away in the report it said an I quote.
What is the extent to which telehealth should be targeted towards specific patient populations and subpopulations, and what is the association between area level factors, patient characteristics (demographics, needs levels for each index condition), and variations in their service use and costs?
I think this probably holds some of the answers to the problem. When telehealth/telemedicine is applied as a generic answer to generic problems it will not provide the required benefits. If it is used in a targetted way it might.

I have just received some further evidence that all is not well with the Telehealth initiatives in the UK.

The headline in the online journal for UK doctors says: "Telehealth pathfinder schemes struggle to recruit patients." I quote from the article:

Even pathfinder areas spearheading the Department of Health’s drive to extend telehealth across the country have so far recruited just a fraction of the patients they are supposed to help by the end of this year.
In the pilot areas which were able to provide figures, just over 8,000 users have been signed up to date, despite the NHS pledging that 100,000 patients would be helped by the end of 2013.

This quote from one of the people involved in the trial gets to the heart of the matter:

"While the new technology was mainly viewed positively by patients, many clinicians still considered it ‘a solution looking for a problem - the biggest difficulty is that the evidence doesn’t really provide sufficient confidence to allow our clinicians to take this forward."

These negative reports should be of grave concern to the many companies in the UK (and US) who think that smart technology in the home is the solution to the patient's needs and a way of boosting their bank balance. Dick Stroud

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