Telehealth: Health Management

Medical person on the telephoneFor years telecare and telehealth have been bandied around as magic pills that will help the NHS meet the challenge of an ageing population with increasingly complex healthcare needs at a time of fewer resources and shrinking budgets. Keith Nurcombe, Operational Head, O2 Health, explains why he doesn’t believe they’ve delivered yet, with too few proven benefits.

For many, telecare and telehealth are just about giving mobile phones to nurses, doctors or patients. They see technology as the solution to all their ills without actually thinking about what it can deliver, what it can enable people to do.

So how do we realise the huge untapped potential to help patients manage their own care and to create more time for healthcare workers for patients?

I believe these changes will only be realised by putting patients first. But to genuinely improve care we need to get right under the skin of how an organisation works, how their staff work and what they could be doing differently to provide a better service to patients, often at a reduced cost.

This means forging genuine partnerships with healthcare providers to gain a deep understanding of patient care challenges. Only then can we enable patients and healthcare providers to find new ways of managing their care in their own home or releasing staff from the burden of unnecessary administration.

It also requires healthcare providers to start thinking of digital technology as something that enables better patient care when used in the right circumstances, not something that is the solution in itself.

Case study

It is an approach that O2 have taken and one that is already delivering results. Last year Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust community midwives cut their high levels of unnecessary administration after O2 joined them on their rounds. By shadowing the midwives it was realised that they were doubling their admin time through manually writing notes in situ, and then typing them up when they returned to the hospital.

O2 recommended that the midwives use digital pens and paper, linked to a BlackBerry. The pen encrypts and sends data to the smart phone via Bluetooth, which is then transmitted directly and securely to the Trust’s patient record system.

After testing, the pens were rolled out across 130 community staff with great success. The change has freed up more time for midwives to care and, most importantly, it has helped improve patients’ experiences, as they get a copy of the midwives’ reports. Electronic copies are backed up on the system.

It’s also helped the Trust to save £220,000 per year, halving the time that midwives spend on administration. If deployed nationally to all the midwives across the country, the NHS could be looking at efficiency savings of around £50m, and that’s just through the efficient use of one simple piece of digital technology.

The big picture

It is these kinds of savings that the whole of the NHS is going to have to deliver if they are to meet the government’s target of making £20bn of efficiency savings while delivering care that is patient focused.

The technology already exists to make this target achievable - we’re not talking about tomorrow’s world here.

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Autumn 2010