NHS hospital managers have claimed that a telemedicine system has enabled them to cut admission rates by 45% and lengths of stay by 30% for care home residents with long term conditions.
Health leaders at Airedale Hospital in West Yorkshire argue that reductions on this scale among these patients – who have conditions such as chronic heart failure, COPD and diabetes – can bring savings of about £2m a year.
However, GP leaders have said that, although telemedicine can work well in certain cases, it should not be regarded as a ‘panacea’ or a ‘political tool’.
The system at Airedale Hospital allows more than 1,000 patients in 33 residential and nursing homes to have face-to-face consultations with nurses and doctors round-the-clock using mobile video technology.
The improvements were calculated by comparing two 12-month periods, before and after the telemedicine system was introduced.
Dr Richard Pope, a consultant in telehealth at Airedale, presented the results at a King’s Fund’s conference on telehealth and telecare.
He said: ‘These results are really positive and show that using teleconsultation has huge benefits for managers of care homes and carers, who feel reassured they can quickly get expert help. But more importantly for patients, who would prefer to be cared for in their own environment than taken into hospital.’
However, telehealth and telemedicine systems have had mixed results in other regions. The Government-commissioned Whole Systems Demonstrator pilot concluded from a study of 3,230 patients with diabetes, COPD or heart failure that telehealth brought a significant 45% reduction in mortality rates.
But other analyses linked to the pilot showed that for some patient samples telehealth cost £92,000 per quality adjusted life year, almost three times the upper limit for cost effectiveness set by NICE.
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul cautioned that telehealth should not be regarded as a ‘panacea’. He added: ‘It’s not possible to generalise because it is good in some cases but not others. Providers should be free to use technology when they think it will work well, but a problem is that the government is using it as a political tool and is setting targets connected to its use.’