UK mobile operator O2 is set to launch a telecare service in the UK supported by mobile technology. The operator’s Help at Hand service will enable the remote monitoring of patients with chronic conditions. O2 says it is the country’s “first telecare service built around mobile technology”. The service will be delivered over O2’s 2.5G/ GPRS network. Remote monitoring has recently attracted the support of the UK government and is gaining momentum.
Interestingly the service, which is launched in April, will be offered through a GPRS-enabled pendant and wristwatch rather than a mobile handset. Both devices will connect to a secure website and alarm receiving centre. The pendant is manufactured by a company called Safelinq while the wristwatch is made by Everon. Both have developed devices specifically for O2’s service and will have GPRS capability embedded inside them.
O2’s approach is to offer this service initially to health and social care organisations rather than selling directly to end-users. The idea is that organisations, including the NHS, local authorities and private health and care providers, will offer the devices to users. The operator is looking at a consumer version for later this year.
The initial demographic for Help at Hand is older people with chronic conditions for whom a pendant or watch is easier to use than a mobile handset. According to Jake Griffiths, O2 product marketing manager, talking to Mobile Health Live, “one of the most important things was to get a product which people can pick up and use really easily”. A mobile handset for the service is under consideration for launch at a later date. An Help at Hand app is also possible.
The operator will charge £20 per month for each connection to the service. This is a flat free covering all the voice and data requirements associated with the service (emergency calls for instance). Griffiths argues O2’s approach to tariffing for the telecare market is simpler than rivals. “Existing tariffs are too complex,” he says. The charge is borne by the organisation, eg local authority or healthcare provider, that is providing the service to the end user.
The service will be launched by O2 Health, the operator’s business unit focused on the mobile health market. O2 says the new service expands support for people with long-term conditions to outside the home and their immediate care environment.
Remote monitoring services are designed to avoid or reduce emergency call outs or hospital readmissions. Supporters argue they also offer cost savings over conventional approaches.
The UK government is enthusiastic about telecare technology. It recent unveiled its Three Million Lives campaign to target the same number of people who could benefit from having remote monitoring equipment installed in their homes. O2’s service uses mobile technology to go further. However the operator claims only one percent of current telecare services in the UK are currently mobile-based. Lack of mobility can reduce flexibility for people suffering from long-term conditions.
O2 is not the only player eyeing the market for remote monitoring. For instance Doro is coming from the opposite direction as a handset vendor looking to add services to its background in devices. Others are likely to follow in the future.
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