Telehealth key to future of healthcare
Virtual consultation and remote diagnosis offer incredible potential to shape the surgery of the future and increase access to specialist services from within the primary care system. In the UK, this technology could significantly reduce the burden on secondary healthcare provision.
Telehealth could see the complete transformation of primary care, for example, with the creation of remote diagnosis and observation rooms, allowing patients to be diagnosed via video link and subsequently seen remotely by specialists. Telehealth also has the potential to create high-definition conferencing suites by enabling experts to discuss care options together, irrespective of their geographical location, leaving more time for the delivery of other vital services.
Telehealth is continually evolving and can be adapted to many different situations. Renal care and optometry have already been identified as areas where telehealth could be used: patients using dialysis machines can be observed remotely in their own homes and eye examinations can be carried out via video link.
The next step is integration into mobile devices, enabling patients to contact their doctor using video streaming as emerging technology becomes more reliable and affordable. Such mobile telehealth methods would also reach thousands of nurses, support staff and doctors, broadening access to convenient care.
One example of telehealth implementation is the Cumbria and Lancashire Telestroke Network, which is operational in eight hospital sites across the northwest of the UK. The network provides an out of hours, remote video stroke diagnosis service, allowing the correct drugs to be prescribed quickly, irrespective of doctor location. With 4000 people across Cumbria and Lancashire becoming victims of strokes each year, this innovation has reduced the level of morbidity and mortality in the region, particularly in rural areas where healthcare is relatively inaccessible.
Telehealth is coming of age as an effective measure that can harness new, affordable technology with the potential to deliver convenient, effective care to patients willing to embrace it, and provides an alternative way for an overburdened NHS to deliver outstanding health outcomes.