NESTA Hot Topics: Care and Communication – The future of telehealthcare

April 20, 2011 at 11:24 am Leave a comment

By Sophie Byrne

It is only 11:00am and I have already learnt at least three new things today.

1. How to cycle from Hackney to central London without getting lost or injured

2. That bumble bees get drunk and when inebriated can be refused entry to their hive by ‘bouncer’ bees (ridiculous and slightly sinister video here)

3. And most interestingly about four pioneering enterprises in the telehealthcare market – Cellnovo, Buddi, Patients Know Best and Sidekick Studios’ Buddy project at the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts’s (NESTA’s) Hot Topics: Care and Communication event. The event was filmed, so you can catch all the presentations from the speakers on NESTA’s website.

For those of you unfamiliar with the (broadly interchangeable) terms telehealth, telemedicine or telecare, they basically refer to healthcare or health related information that is delivered to patients through telecommunication technologies such mobile phones, video conferencing and over the internet.

Although telehealth will never replace visits to the docotor or hospital, they have a really important role to play in helping people with long-term conditions or ongoing health problems manage their health better. This both increases the quality of life for indivduals and reduces the cost of care for the NHS, by reducing the number of unscheduled visits to hospital that these people may experience. This is really important for the NHS, where 80% of GP consultations are in relation to long term conditions and resources are increasingly constrained.

Cellnovo has created a pump for type 1 diabetics that administers the correct dose of insulin, monitors glucose levels, amounts of physical activity undertaken and much more. This information is then captured in real time online and made available to patients, their families and their doctors.

Buddi works with 150 local authorities in the UK to provide support to dementia sufferers who need care in the community. They use GPS technology (in wristbands) to track elderly patients who may have fallen in their homes, or those with advanced demetia who may have left home and gotten lost. They are also developing technology to track the ‘wellness’ of patients with long term condition, such as cardiovascular disease. Their telehealth devices are reducing local authority care in the community costs by 50%.

Patients Know Best created the world’s first patient-controlled medical records system. This is a website that allows patients to access and control who else has access to their medical records. They can also send and receive messages to their doctors, track data about their health and find information about their condition.

Finally, Sidekick Studios have created a SMS service for people with long-term mental health issues, where they send a daily text message saying what they did that day and how they are feeling. This information is then collated to see what kinds of activites these people do when they are feeling well, happy and in control and those that are associated with days when they are feeling isolated and depressed. The service allows mental health sufferers to better understand their lives and routines in a constructive way.

Two headline take-aways from the event are around ownership and compliance.

The main challenge for any patient care plan is ensuring that the individual complies with it. This is a challenge for telehealth care too. How do you make sure that someone uses their device, sends that text message or logs onto the website? The consensus from the panel was to ensure high levels of patient compliance you need to use as little technology as possible, or, as much as is neccessary. Sidekick Studios’ original intervention was much more complicated, involving a radio. They quickly realised that this was too much technology, which did not fit in with peoples lives, and resorted to a simple text message.

So the technologies must fit in with people lives. They can improve the chances of this by using existing technologies. For example Buddi are helping patients in South Devon to have Skype consultations with their consultants. This has the advantage of using technolgies that have already been proven in the market, and means the NHS does not have to develop its own technologies. Another example of this is Cellnovo making Apple applications.

Another related challenge for telehealth providers is that of ownership. You can have a wonderfully designed device, but once it is put into a real-life context their are multiple social and human factors that will affect whether a patient feels ownership of the device, therefore making them more or less likely to use it. A factor that affects levels of ownership is who gives the telehealth solution to an individual. Are you introduced to it by your doctor or a friend? If you were given it by a NHS professional do you see it as a type of medicine or somthing that you have to do to ensure continued access to the NHS? Or were you recommended it by a patient organisation or someone else with the same condition who could explain the benefits of the device from their own experience?

These questions about why you decide to share your health data with the NHS in this way are really important. They affect levels of ownership, control and compliance. This is really important for the NHS to acknowledge. They must get this relationship right when they use telehealth with patients.

I really enjoyed this event at NESTA, as we are beginning a Health Foundation project where we will be designing a telehealth solution to improve pregnant women’s relationship with antenatal services in London. I am really looking forward to working with new mothers to see how they use technology and how they think it could be harnessed to improve pregnancy.


Entry filed under: Health, Local Authorities, Local Innovation, Uncategorized.

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