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Calls to extend expert patient programme

By Lilian Anekwe

The expert patient programme should be expanded and made available online, an evaluation by Department of Health researchers has concluded.

A study of patients with chronic illnesses who were trained to use an internet-based self-management programme found it led to significant reductions in GP visits and emergency visits to hospital.

The evaluation of 568 patients with a range of chronic illnesses including arthritis, lung diseases, hypertension and type 1 diabetes, were enrolled in a six-week online self-management programme.

After 12 months patients reported a significant reduction in the number of GP appointments attended and emergency visits to hospital. There were also significant in health distress and self-reported health, tiredness, pain and shortness of breath.

Patients also improved the amount of time spent doing weekly exercise and reported greater satisfaction with the provision of their health care.

The estimated reduction in health care-use were around £272 person, based on an average of 2.19 fewer GP visits, 0.26 fewer emergency department visits, and 0.10 fewer hospital admissions over year following enrolment on the online programme.

But ‘the actual cost of the programme can be much lower were it to be extended to wider populations beyond the pilot group', researchers concluded.

Ian McNeil, project-manager for EPP online and a member of the DH evaluation team, said the results were ‘encouraging' and called for the programme to be expanded online in order to maximise the cost savings to the NHS.

He added: ‘The programme would complement the existing community-based expert patients programme. It should be considered as am additional means of providing self-management and self care support.'

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