The writer of a recent report in The Guardian newspaper proclaimed himself “in despair” about the state of telecare in the UK. The source of the writer’s misery was the Whole System Demonstrator (WSD) trial involving 6,000 patients with chronic conditions in Kent, Newham and Cornwall. Or rather the delayed publication of the trial's findings was causing angst. Preliminary findings were published by the Department of Health last December. The trial, which involved the use of mobile technology, was a startling success according to the figures. On the basis of the interim findings, the UK government announced its proposed Three Million Lives campaign.
Yet the full version of the report has still not appeared. It is still apparently undergoing peer review. The delay is causing considerable annoyance for the The Guardian writer who anticipated a boost to telecare services from the publication of the full report. Instead the report will not be released all at once “but dribbled out through the rest of the year,” said the writer, a regular columnist who writes under the pseudonym of Dick Vinegar about his experiences as an elderly health patient.
It should be noted that two terms – telecare and telehealth – are sometimes conflated in the coverage of this subject although that is not necessarily the case with Dick Vinegar. Telecare is more like an alarm service that is triggered for instance when a patient has an accident. O2’s Health at Hand is such a service. In contrast telehealth implies a more intensive service which involves a constant monitoring of a patient’s data. A number of mobile operators currently trial telehealth services.
Separately there was a recent US trial of telemonitoring (another term) for older patients with multiple health issues. The objective was to find whether telemonitoring reduced hospitalisations and emergency departments visits. It didn’t. Beyond that primary verdict, the trial also found those patients receiving telemonitoring, which involved daily biometrics, symptom reporting and videoconferencing, showed no significant differences to the usual-care group. In fact, there was greater mortality among the telemonitoring group although those running the trial could not explain the divergence.
The trial was run by the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, and the School of Industrial Engineering, Purdue University, Indiana. The research was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
The columnist in The Guardian returned to his favourite subject in another article so frustrated was he about telecare. The second time he questioned whether doctors in the UK are really interested in telecare services. Correctly he said the technology is likely to change how they treat patients for ever. He raised the question of whether doctors view telehealth as “just another irritating technology like electronic patient records and email which go away if you ignore them long enough?”. He’s right to raise the question. Governments in the UK and elsewhere do not want this to be the case. To ensure it doesn’t happen the department of health should publish the full findings of its WSD trials as soon as possible.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.