GPs have been asked to make telehealth more readily available after the Government set a target for the scheme to be offered to 100,000 patients across seven regions within the next year.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told an Age UK conference that seven ‘pathfinders’, including CCGs and local authorities, are set to agree contracts with suppliers to offer telehealth to patients. This will help the Department of Health towards its target of offering the service to three million people by 2017.
The seven pathfinders cover Worcestershire, North Yorkshire and York and Humber PCT Cluster, NHS South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw, Kernow CCG and Isles of Scilly PCT, NHS Kent and Medway and Camden CCG.
Telehealth uses electronic technology and technology to help people manage their health independently, cutting down on the need to visit their GP or hospital. It includes portable devices which can monitor blood pressure, glucose or weight without the patient having to leave home.
Mr Hunt said: ‘People with long-term conditions see doctors and nurses more than most of us – seven out of every ten pounds spent on the health budget go towards supporting them. I want to free people with long-term conditions from the constant merry-go-round of doctors’ surgeries and hospitals.’
He added: ‘Technology can help people manage their condition at home, free up a lot of time and save the NHS money. In a world where technology increasingly helps us manage our social and professional lives, it seems logical that it should also help people manage their health.
‘With our industry partners, we will make England a world leader on telehealth.’
The move was welcomed by David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS Commissioning Board,who commented: ‘Telehealth not only saves lives, it transforms them, so that people with a long-term condition can feel in control of their life. The seven pathfinders that are offering this new technology to patients will give the NHS Commissioning Board important insight into how best to extend this option to any patient managing prolonged ill health or a chronic condition.’
He said the local commissioners experience will be used to promote the service vigorously across England from April 2013.
A DH-funded research project, The Whole Systems Demonstrator cluster, found that using telehealth could cut emergency admissions by 20%, reduce A & E visits by 15% and reduce mortality by 45%.
Michelle Mitchell, the charity director general at Age UK said: ‘Empowering people to respond to changes in their long-term conditions or helping them take control of their symptoms could help them to remain independent for longer and avoid the need for health services. For older people this can mean staying in their own home and retaining a sense of confidence to carry on with their day-to-day lives.’
She said it is not a substitute for face-to-face appointments and direct care but could give people a ‘real chance to control their health’.