Telehealth is the way forward

following a report from Audit Scotland suggesting that the NHS in Scotland should be doing more to consider telehealth when introducing or redesigning services, NHS Borders say they are working to develop it in line with the outcomes of the new national eHealth strategy.

And the benefits should be visible in everything from telephone based services right through to remote monitoring of patients.

The Audit Scotland report published last week looked at how health boards nationwide are providing care to patients at a distance, using a range of technologies such as mobile phones, the internet, digital televisions, video-conferencing and self-monitoring equipment.

The report said that NHS boards must look at new ways of delivering care, particularly as the NHS is facing growing demand.

It went on to explain that telehealth has the potential to deliver a range of clinical services more efficiently and effectively, adding that is popular with patients, doctors and nurses who who have used it.

Telehealth’s benefits include less travel, faster diagnoses and fewer hospital admissions.

There are around 70 small initiatives across Scotland which have identified the benefits of telehealth and Jackie Stephen, head of IM&T for NHS Borders said that like their counterparts throughout Scotland, they recognised the pros of telehealth and were busy looking at ways to develop the services currently offered.

She commented: “NHS Borders like other Boards is working to develop telehealth services in line with the outcomes in the new national eHealth strategy.

“This can take many forms, from simple telephone based services to full video conferencing, interactive TV channels or remote monitoring of patients either within a healthcare setting or at home.

“We will assess the suitability of solutions for different healthcare settings and requirements to ensure we get the most benefit for patients.

“Telehealth can help reduce long journeys for patients and speed up access to healthcare professionals. It offers us the opportunity to be creative and innovative in better supporting patients needs.”

NHS Borders have recently introduced pulmonary rehabilitation classes run remotely via video link where an instructor leads groups at remote sites.

And Ttey have video-links for health professionals across Borders and Lothian to discuss shared care of cancer patients who have part of their treatment and care provided in NHS Lothian.

Ms Stephen continued: “We will be considering other innovative ways of providing telehealth services and are currently investigating text and telephone based reminder services for patients to help reduce our Did not Attend rates, maximizing the use of outpatient appointments and reducing time lost by consultants when patients fail to turn up for an appointment.”

Auditor General for Scotland, Robert Black added: “The NHS in Scotland is facing serious pressures, from the ageing population and increasing numbers of people with long term health conditions such as diabetes and respiratory ilnesses.

“Telehealth could help to provide a range of services efficiently and effectively. Where it has been used, patients, doctors and nurses generally like it.”

The Scottish Centre for Telehealth (SCT) was set up in 2006 and originally hosted by NHS Grampian.

A Scottish Government review in late 2008 found it had made some progress but lacked clear strategic direction and there was confusion over its role and purpose.

The review recommended SCT join NHS 24 to position itself as national resource.

This happened in April 2010 and has provided more direction and focus to SCT’s activity and it has since published its first strategic framework.