08 October 2015

Telecare: the future of health and wellbeing

There are 15m people in England with long term health conditions, including diabetes, obesity and dementia. Those people account for 70% of the health budget consumption. In Leeds, for example, they have a £1.84bn healthcare budget and 70% of that, or £1.3bn per annum, is being spent on this cohort of patients. 50% of all GP appointments are being used on these patients, and 70% of all in-patient bed days.

In budgetary terms this is a black hole, with no discernible relief in sight. In fact, the Department of Health is saying that over the next couple of years, that 15m is going to rise to 18m which in turn will inject another £5bn of cost pressures by 2018.

BT saw an opportunity to be able to help the NHS and give a change of focus to how healthcare is delivered. Telehealth is simply about using technology to allow someone to stay in their own home and manage their health better. Patients take daily readings, by using telehealth equipment, eg a blood pressure monitor, and then using a smart phone or tablet to answer health related questions. That information is fed back to a nurse who monitors that patient.

There are 150 patients per nurse, who manages that patient’s care based on the data delivered by the technology, within the parameters that have been agreed. In recent months BT’s telehealth solutions have now started being used to monitor people in residential homes. In the past patients who would, out of necessity, have gone immediately to their GP, can now consult with a nurse and this usually avoids a need for a hospital admission.

Patients find it reassuring as they are being tracked every day, and they know that they can simply activate a device that will open up a communication channel to a monitoring centre.

Over 9,000 people currently use a telecare solution. Call centre operatives answer within 90 seconds of any alarm being raised, 24 hours a day, and can access full details fo the patient’s medical history and medication. National and international evidence shows a 50% reduction in admissions which means better a better result for the patient and a financial benefit to the NHS.

Telecare has the potential to make older people feel more secure in their own home, reducing isolation and dependence. We’ve helped develop an emergency pendant, available through a chemist chain, that the user can wear around the home. The user, or a friend or relative, can register the device on a portal, and then input care parameters so if any patterns of the patient’s behaviour are unusual, ie failure to get up in the morning, the emergency services can be alerted immediately.

This, an example of the early stages of the concept of the fully connected digital home, empowers families to take care of their loved ones into their own hands while feeling secure in the knowledge that they are supported, and for older people this has the huge benefit of removing them from the acute care setting.

Integrating care also results in more joined up thinking and more accurate data. In Birmingham we are integrating 1.6m healthcare records, which can be shared across healthcare partners. Further down the line this can be linked back to viable technology platforms in the home, and to healthcare professionals, making a joined up narrative of the patient’s progress.

Patients are happier, calmer and less at risk of secondary infections when they are living at home. The power of communication can make a better world in many ways, and placed as we are, in direct contact with a huge section of the populace in a country which is increasingly dominated by the needs of an ageing population, we are in a position to provide telehealth solutions that have the potential to deliver greater dignity and independence across the NHS and the healthcare industry.

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