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Timeline: the evidence so far on telehealth, telecare and telemedicine

2006: DH announces it will fund the Whole Systems Demonstrator trial, the largest randomised control trial of telehealth and telecare in the world. It involves 6,191 patients and 238 GP practices across three sites in Newham, Kent and Cornwall.

The DH says the trial is to look at ‘cost effectiveness, clinical effectiveness, organisational issues, effect on carers and workforce issues’ and is to be focused on three conditions: diabetes, COPD and coronary heart disease.

2011: DH announces its ‘3millionlives’ policy: to rollout telehealth technologies on an ‘industrial’ scale, to improve the lives of 3 million people by 2017.

December 2011: First paper from the Whole Systems Demonstrator trial finds telemedicine could reduce death rates in patients with long term conditions by 45%. The study also records a 15% reduction in A&E visits, a 20% reduction in emergency admissions, a 14% reduction in bed days and an 8% reduction in tariff costs.

March 2012: Researchers on the Whole Systems Demonstrator project admit telecare has had little effect on quality of life and has shown a cost per QALY of £88,000.

April 2012: US analysis suggests the remote monitoring of elderly patients is linked to substantially increased death rates.

June 2012: Results of the second Whole Systems Demonstrator trial show the use of telehealth reduces hospital admissions, but is unlikely to have a significant effect on costs.

November 2012: The DH sets a target for telehealth to be offered to 100,000 patients across seven ‘pathfinder’ regions within the next year.

December 2012: The DH announces plans for a new DES for remote monitoring of patients with long-term conditions, which will include telehealth. The BMA says this will put pressure on practices.

February 2013 :  The third Whole Systems Demonstrator paper is published and finds that telehealth has brought no significant improvements to the quality of life of people with COPD, diabetes or heart failure.

March 2013: There is ‘no convincing evidence’ that telecare can reduce other healthcare or social care costs, according to the latest paper from the Whole Systems Demonstrator trial.