Telehealth halves deaths, largest trial yet shows

Using telehealth devices in the home can halve mortality rates, reduce pressure on A&E departments and cut hospital admissions, according to early findings of a DoH trial.

Initial results from the department's pilot of the technologies found that, in just 12 months, deaths fell 45% among patients using the devices.

The government will now begin rolling out the service to up to three million people with long term conditions who can benefit from the technologies.

The trial, known as the Whole System Demonstrator Programme, tested telehealth and telecare devices using 6,191 patients from 238 GP practices in Newham, Kent and Cornwall.

Pilots ran from May 2008 to September 2010 in what is thought to be the largest RCT of the technologies in the world to date.

After several months delay, preliminary results have now been released from the telehealth half of the trial involving 3,030 patients.

Telehealth uses devices in the home to monitor vital health signs such as BP. These are then sent remotely to a healthcare worker.

It means potential problems such as infections can be detected and treated early to avoid emergency admissions and poorer outcomes.

Initial results showed a 15% reduction in A&E visits and a 20% reduction in emergency admissions when the technology was used correctly, the DoH said.

Elective admissions fell 14% and there was a 14% drop in bed days. Tariff costs were reduced by 8%.

Cornwall GP Dr Paul McEleny, who helped introduce telehealth to the county, said: 'Patients who use telehealth like it; they use it as a learning tool to understand their condition but it can also detect the warning signs of things going wrong before the symptoms develop fully, which allows us to treat at an earlier stage to prevent them from possibly being admitted to hospital.'

Carol Williams, director of nursing for NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, one of the pilot sites, said: 'The benefits for patients are phenomenal.'

The DoH will release findings from the telecare half of the trial next year, along with further analysis and results from the whole programme.

The departments plans to work with private industry, the NHS, social care and professional partners to roll-out the 'Three Million Lives' campaign to introduce the technologies nationwide.

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