Last week news broke of a study into telehealth suggesting that remotely monitoring patients with long-term conditions such as heart disease or diabetes is less cost effective than usual care.
At face value, the findings are a blow for telehealth, especially for a sector that – quite rightly – views empirical evidence as the bedrock on which all decisions should be made.
But if that’s the case, we need to be assured that trials of telehealth are watertight and give a true indication of how beneficial a treatment may or may not be. Unfortunately, it seems there are conflicting results. Initial results from the Department of Health’s Whole System Demonstrator trial of the technology seemed very positive, with fewer admissions to hospital. Yet later results were less convincing and the methodology of the trial was called into question by many.
While claims and counter claims about the impact of telehealth continue, what is recognised by government and charities representing patients alike is that remote patient monitoring is vital if the NHS is to cope with the ever-increasing number of people with long-term conditions. The number of those managing these conditions is anticipated to rise 23 per cent over the next 25 years – so time really is of the essence.
That’s why we should focus on finding solutions that do work rather than agonising about what doesn’t. Now that the right mobile technology is available on a large scale, the cost of delivering this type of care is dropping and allowing health care providers to create efficiencies. This is a significant development and shows how much progress has been made in making telehealth affordable and effective since the trials launched some time ago.
Mobile technology is just a part of our lives today – we shop, bank, work, communicate, are entertained through smartphones and tablets – so using this kind of technology to monitor our health is a natural, and increasingly cost-effective, evolution.
I fully agree that we need to prove to the health sector that telehealth is effective, but we cannot let the findings of one study write off the entire approach. Doing nothing isn’t an option.
Nikki Flanders is the Managing Director of O2 Health