Telehealth is more likely to achieve better and faster health outcomes, and gives patients more responsibility over their health.
This encourages better adherence to medication, and a more thorough understanding of their health and the technology used for monitoring it.
Telehealth can make use of modern technology to allow patients to manage their conditions at home, reducing the need for primary care and hospital visits, and giving patients much more control over their own health.
The equipment can often be expensive, especially in the initial process of setting it up, as well as complicated, but there is much more than can be done with current technologies that most people already have and know how to use.
Mobile ‘phones and the internet are an underused and underappreciated form of communicating telehealth. For example, some healthcare providers use text alerts to remind patients about appointments or about submitting data.
Currently, there has not been much introduction of these methods, with telehealth mostly being focused on introducing new equipment for patients to monitor their health, but telehealth needs to use a range of technologies to help people with health problems live more independently at home.
However, one of the key ambitions of the Department of Health (2012) is the widespread use of modern technology to make health and care services more convenient, more accessible and more efficient.
For example, setting up the equipment for people to self-measure blood pressure or blood-glucose levels, and for the measurements to be electronically transmitted to a health professional via an online website.
Using a known form of technology like text messaging of online messaging would help the patient connect much better with this.
Telehealth is made more effective if the clinical plan is agreed between the patient and their clinician, as this brings about a better understanding and the patient is more likely to stick to it. GP’s should give a plan with the purpose of using telehealth, what can be achieved, and explains what to do if things go wrong.
This planning stage also must take into account other dimensions of each patient’s ill health or circumstances, such as another condition, adverse lifestyle habits or occupation.
With these factors taken into account, evidence in the Nursing Times shows that hospital stays noticably reduced when telehealth was introduced:
The first of five analyses to be published from the Department of Health-commissioned Whole System Demonstrator programme assessed the impact of telehealth on hospital use by patients with long-term conditions (diabetes, COPD or heart failure) between May 2008 and November 2009 (Steventon et al, 2012). Patients were randomly split into two groups:
- An intervention group of 1,570 people, who were given devices and taught how to monitor their condition at home and transmit the data to health professionals; and
- A control group of 1,584 people, who received usual care, excluding telehealth.
The results showed that 43% of people in the intervention group were admitted to hospital during the study period compared with 48% of patients in the control group. Of the intervention group, 5% died compared with 8% of controls.
There were also statistically significant differences in the mean number of emergency hospital admissions per head (0.54 for patients in the intervention group compared with 0.68 for those in the control group) and the mean hospital stay per head (4.87 days for patients in the intervention group compared with 5.68 days for those in the control group).