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Opportunities to use telehealth in NHS ‘being missed’

Telehealth systems that could save the health service hundreds of thousands of pounds are being under utilised by the NHS, a new report by a public spending watchdog has found.

Telehealth services are designed to provide remote electronic healthcare to patients with long term conditions such as diabetes, heart failure or COPD – and provide devices such as blood sugar monitors to patients with diabetes that can alert patients' GP if  readings become dangerously high.

But the review of telehealth in Scotland by Audit Scotland found that the NHS north of the border was not thinking about telehealth enough when introducing or re-designing services.

'Targeted appropriately, telehealth offers the potential to help NHS boards deliver a range of clinical services more efficiently and effectively. To achieve this, NHS boards should consider the use of telehealth when introducing or redesigning clinical services,' said the report.

The report attributed this to the low profile of telehealth and barriers in funding; with around half of medical directors surveyed believing that funding will restrict development of telehealth in the future.

The report said huge savings opportunities were being missed, for example where telehealth could be used to monitor patients with COPD at home, which it said could save around £1,000 per patient per year, mostly through reducing admissions to hospital.

Robert Black, auditor general for Scotland, said: ‘The NHS in Scotland is facing serious pressures, from the ageing population and increasing numbers of people with long-term health conditions such as diabetes and respiratory illnesses.

'Telehealth could help to provide a range of services efficiently and effectively. Where it has been used, patients, doctors and nurses generally like it.'

But Dr Gordon Baird, a GP in Dumfries and Galloway, was sceptical of the report's findings: ‘I see nothing in the report that makes me convinced that implementing this new technology is likely to be effective, cost-effective and it has the potential to divert resources from essential local services.'