Telehealth not effective for long-term conditions

Categories: Care.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) looked into the effectiveness of telehealth through a study of patient reported outcomes, and concluded that “telehealth did not improve quality of life or psychological outcomes” for patients with long term conditions.

The results of the study were based on data was gathered from over 1960 participants who had either chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes or heart failure, recruited between May 2008 and December 2009. Telehealth was used to collect and monitor data from patients five times a week, including blood pressure, blood glucose levels and other indicators. These would be taken by the patient themselves, and results would be sent to health professionals in a remote location to be analysed.

The results of the study are in stark contrast to the positive headlines about telehealth that were written following the Whole System Demonstrator (WSD) program in 2011, which it claimed would “substantially reduce mortality, reduce the need for admissions to hospital, lower the number of bed days spent in hospital and reduce the time spent in A&E.”

The study was drawn from a group of UK universities, led by City University. They acknowledge that there have since been developments in telehealth techniques, including real-time analysis of data, and that its work did not assess any potential benefits specific to individual long-term conditions, as opposed to general wellbeing.

The study also did not explore the use of video conferencing to support home care, which is a telehealth service that many hospices have found success in implementing.

Hospice telehealth and video conferencing success stories

Many hospices have approached us with their own success stories about implementing telehealth to support their home care patients. For example, Heart of Kent Hospice’s ‘virtual ward’ uses video conferencing technology to provide face-to-face support for patients at home, and comes highly recommended. Dr Pollington, the hospice’s medical director, recommends the system be used by other hospices and caring organisations, saying that “the social impact of this technology is potentially enormous”.

Manorlands Hospice also uses video conferencing to support their patients in rural areas.  In Australia, Skype has been used to deliver palliative care consultations at home to help save time and money. 

Please contact us if you have heard of any success stories about the implementation of telehealth in a palliative care setting.

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