The Department of Health has launched a campaign to use telehealth to improve the lives of 3m people over the next five years.
The launch came as the DH simultaneously published a review of innovation in the NHS and the ‘early headline findings’ from its Whole Systems Demonstrator programme.
The WSD randomised controlled trial was launched in May 2008 to assess the benefits and impacts of telehealth and telecare technology on the NHS and social care services.
It is probably the largest trial of its kind in the world, involving more than 6,000 patients and 230 GP practices across sites in Newham, Kent and Cornwall.
The programme was initially due to run for a minimum of two years. Now, three and a half years since its launch, the DH has released the ‘early headline findings’ of the telehealth element.
The results, which take up one paragraph in a report totalling four pages, say the correct use of telehealth can deliver; a 15% reduction in A&E visits, a 20% reduction in emergency admissions, a 14% reduction in elective admissions, a 14% reduction in bed days and an 8% reduction in tariff costs.
The report says the results show “at least three million people with long term conditions and/or social care needs could benefit from using telehealth and telecare.”
To achieve this, the DH is launching its ‘three million lives’ campaign in partnership with industry, the NHS, social care and professional partners.
The DH said in a separate statement it would deploy remote medical devices - such as home-based equipment that can send details of the vital statistics of at-risk patients to doctors – to 3m people over the next five years.
However, the WSD results report maintains the campaign is not a national target or a government guarantee.
“Instead, it is more about the department providing national leadership, strategic direction and advice to NHS and social care organisations, with support from industry [which] would be responsible for creating the market and working with local organisations to deliver the change.”
It says a detailed workplan for the campaign is in the early stages of development and further information will be available “in due course.”
Meanwhile, a review of innovation in the NHS says the early indications from the WSD programme need to be exploited through the spread and use of telehealth.
It says the need for capital investment in telehealth is “prohibitive”. To get around this problem, it says the DH will work with industry to identify ways of re-profiling costs, so they can be met from downstream revenue savings.
Despite the limited release of the WSD results and the financial problems raised by the innovation review, Prime Minister David Cameron used telehealth as an example of the government's commitment to create a vibrant life sciences industry in the UK.
"We've trialled it, it's been a huge success, and now we're on a drive to roll this out nationwide," he said in a widely anticipated speech yesterday afternoon.
"Dignity, convenience and independence for millions of people. And this is not just a good healthcare story. It's going to put us miles ahead of other countries commercially, too."
The full results from the WSD programme are being evaluated by six major academic institutions – City University London, University of Oxford, University of Manchester, the Nuffield Trust, Imperial College London and the London School of Economics.
This evaluation will be published in various papers, once again, “in due course”. The same commitment is made for the telecare segment of the WSD programme.
In addition: “More detailed analysis of the data will results in further papers being published over the coming months and years.”
© 2011 EHealth Media.
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