Exclusive: Telehealth won't improve care, say GPs

Almost two-thirds of GPs do not believe the government's telehealth roll-out will improve care for patients, a GP magazine poll suggests.

Most GPs in the poll did not believe telehealth could improve patient care (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)
Most GPs in the poll did not believe telehealth could improve patient care (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)

In the survey of 316 GPs, 61% said telehealth did not have the potential to improve the care they gave to patients, with a further 17% unsure.

Only 22% said they believed the technologies can enhance patient care.

GPs responding to the survey complained that the devices threaten to raise workload rather than reduce it, while others branded the drive a 'gimmick'.

Findings from a DH-funded trial found a selection of devices in patients' homes could cut mortality and hospital admissions. But further analyses suggested that the equipment tested in the trial would not be cost effective for the NHS.

Nevertheless, telehealth services are being rolled out across England under the 3millionlives campaign. Progress stalled in 2013 and a DH plan to develop seven ‘pathfinder’ sites to promote widespread adoption was eventually scrapped by NHS England.

A recent investigation by GP found just 2,368 patients were actively using the health-monitoring devices across 26 pathfinder CCGs in September 2013.

NHS England has since relaunched the programme to focus on areas already offering patients access to telehealth services.

But in the survey, GPs voiced their discontent with the push to make telehealth a routine part of clinical care.

One salaried GP in England said there was ‘very little evidence for most interventions and [there was] potential to create unnecessary work’.

Source: Survey of 316 GPs by GP magazine

Another partner in England said telehealth was ‘expensive, time-consuming and little benefit to patients except to make them more anxious about their health’.

A partner in Scotland said: ‘Studies to date suggest extremely limited, if any, benefit and potential for significant increase in workload. Another example of wasted resource by government with failure to listen to emerging evidence. The money wasted on this would have been much better invested in community nursing personnel.’

Some GPs supported the use of telehealth devices but said it would only be useful 'for a limited number' of patients.

An NHS England spokesman said: 'Telehealth is an evolving technology which, when used effectively, has been proven to have real benefits including greater choice and flexibility for patients, reductions in emergency hospital admissions and reduced hospital stays.'

He said a number of telehealth initiatives had proved successful and that a plan to support greater adoption will be published in March 2014.

The spokesman added: 'It is clear that we need to do all we can to promote the potential of telehealth so that clinicians and commissioners see the real difference that it can make.'

Meanwhile, a plan to roll out a telehealth DES in England has been scrapped, despite NHS England paying practices £12m to prepare for the scheme.

NHS England introduced the remote care monitoring (preparation) DES in 2013/14, paying practices to prepare for a full telehealth enhanced service the following year. But plans for the 2014/15 follow-on DES were cancelled in the announcement of the next GP contract.

The NHS England spokesman said: 'Clinicians and commissioners consistently told us that the remote care monitoring (preparation) DES wasn’t working effectively. We listened and acted on this. This is in no way an indication of the importance placed on the use of technology though.'

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