The British Medical Association has questioned the UK Government’s telehealth plan, saying it will add significant workload for GPs and will not likely help patients.

In November, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced his plans to roll out the government’s 3millionlives programme is “well under way”. This plan is looking to get telehealth schemes out to three million extra people in the UK by 2017.

As part of this, the government has proposed to introduce a new remote monitoring scheme from April with one disease area, such as hypothyroidism, with a further locally agreed priority area to be established from April 2014.

But the BMA’s GP committee says that whilst it shares the UK Government’s wish to cut patient waiting times and increase efficiency of care, it does not think, as the government does, that telehealth and remote monitoring schemes are necessarily the right way of doing this.

In its response to the government’s proposed doctor contract changes, the BMA said that providing remote care monitoring will place practices under pressure and yet evidence of any benefit is limited.

“Patients will continue to book face-to-face appointments to discuss their condition despite the availability of remote monitoring and the evidence that the number of face-to-face appointments decreases with the availability of remote care monitoring is very limited,” it says.

In terms of the evidence, the conclusion from studies is that the evidence does not warrant full scale roll-out, but more careful exploration. “There are uncertainties about the cost, quality and safety of telehealth interventions, their effects on patient-clinician relationships, and their scalability and sustainability,” the committee believes.

Additionally, some patients may not be happy with remote care because they find it intrusive. It says many of the early telehealth projects failed because extensive anecdotal evidence from patients to their doctor made it clear that they preferred ‘personal’ care from a human.

“In light of the risks outlined here, we would urge the government to consider very carefully the implementation of remote care monitoring,” the committee concludes. 

The government was also recently challenged by new analysis of its telehealth pilot scheme in 2011, which suggested that the cost per QALY gained was at a very high £88,000.

Catherine Hendersen, research officer at the London School of Economics, said: “It is unlikely that telehealth is cost effective in terms of improving quality of life, in relation to a NICE threshold of £30,000.”