GPs in Lancashire and Cumbria SHA have started using a telephone-based clinical monitoring service, using small devices that take ECGs which are then interpreted over the phone while the patient waits.
Broomwell Healthwatch, based in Manchester, have supplied monitoring devices to several GP practices. These devices are already in several practices in Preston, Chorley and Morecambe, with plans to extend the service to rural areas. The systems can take normal vital signs such as blood pressure, temperature, pulse and blood sugar levels, but can also be used to take ECGs.
The ECG and relevant patient data is then transmitted over a telephone link to Broomwell's 24-hour monitoring centre, where a staff member interprets it via voice to the GP.
Michael Rowe, technical director at Broomwell Healthwatch, told EHI Primary Care that the main advantage of the system was that it saved time on referrals for tests.
"You can do these tests and get an instant result while the patient is still in the surgery." Rowe added that so far there had been excellent feedback from everybody concerned.
Dr Steve Ward, GP advisor to the SHA, said: "This equipment gives GPs and nurses in Cumbria and Lancashire a wider range of investigative procedures both within the surgery and the patient's home. It helps them establish a diagnosis in acute medical conditions and make regular checks to ensure that patients with long term conditions remain stable."
Broomwell Healthwatch is a private company contracted by the SHA to offer diagnostic telemedicine to practices. The staff which interpret the data are recruited through entrance exams and must sign confidentiality agreements.
"The staff that we employ are extremely expert at interpreting ECGs," said Rowe, adding that what tended to happen was that the only people able to pass the tests were already practicing clinicians. The results are also regularly reviewed by an independent clinician in the NHS.
"It's the doctor's decision, at the end of the day, to decide what to do with the patient," stressed Rowe.
Health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, said that the system helped the SHA achieved the goals set out in the new community care white paper. "It fits perfectly with the new direction established by the Our Health, Our Care, Our Say White Paper.
"Technology will allow services to be provided more locally and will give people the chance to monitor their own health. I hope to see more use of such technology in the future."
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