Telehealth: Old fad or new trend?
Over the last few years there’s been a lot of discussion about taking more responsibility for our own health. Be it smoking, weight or diet, more people are looking towards mobile technology for information and guidance. The use of the internet as an information source gives 24 hour access to opinion (not always helpful!), while wearables support self-monitoring and in some cases self-management, and apps and telehealth portals add to the potential to gather health data.
However, most of these technologies have been sourced independently by patients rather than prescribed as an element of their treatment plan, and most have no connection to any healthcare professionals. Yet for mobile devices to have a significant positive effect on health, connecting to clinicians, such as through telehealth, is essential.
Managing the chasm
Interestingly there is still a chasm between policy, which seems obsessed with interoperability, being paperless, and patients accessing records online, and the healthcare providers on the other side who are totally focused on driving activity alongside efficiency.
Apps and connected devices still grow in the healthcare market, although there is concern about the quality of some of the content. Connected devices, whilst of higher quality these days, are cost prohibitive in many health use cases as they can’t support scalable deployment.
Tech to increase clinicians’ capacity
How easy is it to swap a face to face conversation with an alternative method of communication? Why can’t we trust a well-informed patient to take their own readings and use their favoured communication method to send the information?
Communicating with patients via widely used technologies can reduce costs and increase the capacity of clinicians. In the UK, County Durham and Darlington Foundation Trust are an example of technology working. They have adopted a digital health approach to delivering care to patients taking anticoagulant, warfarin. Rather than attending the clinic monthly, or even weekly, they now self-test their INR. Using a device, patients take a blood sample and send the result to their care team via an automated phone call or by going online.
Results of this service in action showed that not only were clinic visits reduced from an average of 18 trips a year to one, but clinical outcomes also improved significantly. Time in therapeutic range increased from an average of 59% to 76%, which reduces the chance of a stroke.
Digitising futureproofed healthcare
Whether it’s enabling clinicians access to data on blood glucose levels of a diabetic patient, or an INR reading, or a resident’s weight within a care home, technology has the means of digitising care in a safe, secure and cost effective way. This is so that individuals, or community care staff, can take more responsibility which in turn relieves pressure on the health service.
As well as staying connected, digital health providers must also think on their feet, developing solutions that won’t be outpaced by the technology which surrounds them. Whilst today telehealth is a major player and smartphone apps are rapidly on the rise, tomorrow may bring something different and we must be prepared for that.
Yet we must not lose sight of what digital health is all about; it’s about delivering safe and convenient healthcare in a way that alleviates pressures on NHS resources. It’s about enhancing existing care, promoting self-care and reducing costs. If it doesn’t address a real clinician’s problem and if it doesn’t work around patient lifestyles, it isn’t going to gain widespread adoption.