Doctors report on telehealth success in enhancing patient quality of life

By Sam Collins
12:00 AM

Telehealth is enhancing the quality of life for patients and offers a cost-effective model of care for the management of long-term conditions, according to a panel of leading UK healthcare and local government professionals.

More than 17.5 million people in the UK live with a long-term condition, and there is a growing acceptance of telehealth to enhance quality of life for people with conditions such as COPD, chronic heart failure and diabetes.

At the Telehealth: Innovations And Evidence conferences being held across the UK, healthcare experts from GP practices, PCTs and Councils presented evidence on the benefits telehealth is delivering in reducing avoidable hospital admissions, improving quality of life and keeping people in their home environment for longer.

Telehealth is allowing trusts to do more with less, and to support a greater number of patients - this is helping to improve outcomes and ensure the best use of healthcare and resources.

Daily monitoring with telehealth has brought a number of benefits in patient care, enabling more accurate titration of patient medication and improving medication compliance as a result of increased patient understanding and responsibility for their condition.

The cost of chronic heart failure is large, and is driven by inpatient care, as typical hospital admissions last for around two weeks.

The Orchard Medical Centre in Bristol has successfully integrated telehealth into its chronic heart failure service, to provide more preventative support within the community setting and help avoid hospital admissions, reducing some of the burden on secondary care providers and improving quality of life for patients.

According to Dr Richard Berkley, clinical lead on the telehealth project: "Telehealth keeps people where they want to be, and that's at home with their family. Patient acceptance of telehealth is high; patients are reassured by the regular monitoring, which helps to keep them calm and reduces the risks of exacerbation and of hospital admission.

"In the case of one of our patients, who had severe heart failure and would often forget to take medication leading to regular visits to A&E, telehealth resulted in a dramatic improvement. The patient has not used out-of-hours health services at all in the last year and telehealth gave her increased reassurance leading to improved medication compliance and less visits to the hospital."

Nottingham City PCT and City Council outlined the success of one of the largest telehealth deployments in the UK in managing long-term conditions. The evaluation of their pilot project showed a reduction in demand on unscheduled care, reduction in admissions to hospital, reduction in demand on primary care and an increase in capacity for case managers, as a result of implementing telehealth.

According to Sally Parker, Project Manager at Nottingham City PCT, the clinical consultants from Tunstall have been extremely supportive in enabling the PCT to meet its goals.

"Telehealth is now part of our mainstream services in Nottingham with 300 systems available for use, allowing patients with chronic conditions to benefit from continuous monitoring whilst respecting their privacy, " she said.

"Crucially it educates them to be more aware of their own symptoms and enables clinicians to proactively manage them - which is a vital step in reducing the burden on healthcare providers."

With commissioners looking to ensure best quality care is delivered cost effectively, telehealth promotes more proactive case management, enabling clinicians to provide appropriate care and support for more people and making the most effective use of available resources by keeping people out of hospital for longer.

Sheffield PCT is already using telehealth solutions from leading provider Tunstall Healthcare to tackle the issue of COPD in the community by monitoring patients in their own homes. This innovative approach has seen COPD-related hospital admissions decrease by 50 percent, allowing them to reinvest in the service and home visits by community COPD nurses have been reduced by 80 percent, cutting travel and enabling healthcare staff to prioritise their workload.