‘Remote healthcare’ for three million patients, Daily Telegraph, 6 December 2011

From the Daily Telegraph, 6 December 2011 (story by medical editor Rebecca Smith)

Millions of people will be cared for by remote control in their own home with medical equipment that will monitor their health and transmit the results to doctors, David Cameron has revealed.

There are 15.4m people living with long-term conditions in England who could eventually benefit from this kind of technology.

Blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, pulse, weight, respiration can all be measured using equipment in the home which will transmit the results to doctors or nurses.

It means that early signs of deterioration can be detected and patients be called in for further tests or treatment or adjustments made to medications.

Around 5,000 people currently use so-called ‘telehealth’ machinery in their homes and this will be extended to three million over the next five years, ministers have announced.

It comes as David Cameron said cancer patients will have access to experimental new drugs sooner by investing £180m in the ‘valley of death’ period between new drug development and its use in the NHS.

Medical research companies will also be given greater access to patient data, leading to concerns from campaign groups.
As well as medical equipment, electronic sensors and alarms will be rolled out to help people live in their own homes for longer by alerting a family member or neighbour if someone has failed to get back to bed after getting up in the night or has left a door open unintentionally.

Speaking at the launch of the Strategy for UK Life Sciences in London, Mr Cameron said that “opening up” the health service will make it a “huge magnet” for innovation and drive growth.

He said: “We’ve trialled it, it’s been a huge success, and now we’re on a drive to roll this out nationwide.

“The aim – to improve three million lives over the next five years. This is going to make an extraordinary difference to people. Diabetics taking their blood sugar levels at home – and having them checked by a nurse. Heart disease patients having their blood pressure and pulse rate checked – without leaving their home.

“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 as part of our plan to make our NHS the driver of innovation in UK life sciences.”

Joe Barr, from Cornwall, is part of the pilot study. He has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, kidney disease and obesity. Telehealth was fitted into Joe’s home in August 2009 to specifically monitor his COPD.

He said: “Since using telehealth I have been to see my GP a lot less than I used to do. I understand more about my readings and relate it to my condition.

“It’s like having a little nurse on your shoulder. It’s brilliant.”

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, said: “There are some things that we need to make sure we get right before this is rolled out, like what happens when an abnormal result come in, in the middle of the night.

“But in general we are enthusiastic about this. It quite clearly gives the patients an opportunity to manage their own illness and there is pretty good evidence that this is a good thing.

“It is not for everyone, some people find it intimating and difficult but we know that for many chronic conditions, good tight control is effective and this is a good way of getting it.

“Saving money is not necessarily a bad thing if by saving money you are improving healthcare for patients.”

Steve Flanagan, managing director of Bupa Home Healthcare, said his company is planning to use more technology, but a balance is key.

He said: “Electronic monitoring is OK for some therapies, but it would be a mistake to rely on it. A human face to healthcare is vital; nurse-led care is still best. ”

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