Monday, 17 January 2011

What are the benefits of Remote Monitoring and can it work online?

Cutting edge technology is being trialled by Wakefield NHS in treating people with chronic heart failure. The system allows for remote monitoring of a patient's health, via the internet, as well as facilitating one on one consultations. Run in Conjunction with BT, the trial is due to run until February.

The project uses an interactive personal health system, called the Intel® Health Guide, which incorporates a home based device which prompts patients to regularly input their vital data, such as heart rate and oxygen levels. These are then transmitted, via the internet, to their community nurse for analysis. Should the patient or nurse have any concerns, they can consult via video conferencing integrated into the system.

The tool is not just designed to help heart failure, but any chronic illnesses. A pilot scheme by NHS Lothian initially used the system to help sufferers of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and extended later to other chronic ailments, such as cardiac disease and diabetes.

'Telehealth', as such systems have been christened, has a number of benefits for both patients and providers. It has been found to reduce hospitalisation and readmission rates, by identifying problems early. Patients are more likely to adhere to their disease management programmes, improving their outcomes and again, reducing time in hospital. There's also the factor of cost. With less time in hospital and fewer in-person consultations, telehealth can make significant savings, which is obviously a big bonus in the current climate of tight budgets.

Perhaps the most important benefit though, is increased peace of mind for the patient. Wakefield resident, David Ward, had a heart bypass 12 years ago and credits the Health Guide with rejuvenating his life.

"... this system has given me the confidence to lead as normal life as possible with my heart condition... Because of the confidence I have in this system, I don't worry about my health like I used to. I sleep better and don't have the panic attacks I used to and I've started to walk small distances again – I'd go as far as saying it's given me a new lease of life."

The remote monitoring utilized by the Intel Health Guide is similar to that which we've recently discussed in relation to mental health and positive behavioural change. The benefits are very much the same and especially with the inherent savings, should be high on the NHS agenda for extensive research and possible implementation.

Whether the monitoring required for chronic illness is beyond what an online tool could deal with, I'm not sure, but relaying data and video conferencing would certainly be possible. A web based version of the Health Guide could therefore be viable. This would have the advantage of having an unlimited usership and be easier to distribute, as well as being far cheaper than purchasing real-world equipment. A social element, shown in the articles above to be very useful, could also be incorporated.

As the NHS looks for innovative ways in which to not only gain better health outcomes, but also save money, delivery of healthcare via the internet appears to offer huge opportunities to do just that. Video conferencing especially, could drastically reduce time needed with patients. This could be a timely boost for GP's, who may need all the free time they can get to deal with the challenges of the impending Consortia.

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