A new report by consultants Deloitte suggests that the advent of telehealth and telecare are a real ‘game changer’ for health and social care.

The report, ‘primary care, working differently’, is now in its second year and has been conducted by Deloitte’s Centre for Health Solutions. It shows that telecare and telehealth can “transform health and social care” by allowing commissioners to respond quicker to their patients, and for patients to have more control over their care.

Telehealth and telecare, which have been lauded by the UK Government, are new technologies that enable doctors to remotely monitor patients, especially those with long-term conditions like diabetes or Parkinson’s disease.

It works by employing electronic equipment in homes to read key health signs, and the government is looking to extend this capability over the next five years to reach three million people.

Telehealth equipment reads signs such as pulse, weight, respiration and blood oxygen levels, while telecare refers to the sorts of devices – like personal pendant alarms worn around the neck or bed sensors to detect unexpected movements – which can help patients with dementia for example to avoid unplanned admissions.

There are, however, only around 5,000 telehealth users and 1.5 million pieces of telecare in use in England. But compare this to the 15.4 million in the country have at least one condition which can be managed but not cured, rising to a projected figure of 18 million over the next 20 years.

The cost of care for these people will put a huge financial strain on the NHS, but Deloitte believes that the government is right to back telehealth and telecare to help manage the medical and financial implications.

Deloitte says these systems are cost effective and that trials show that it can reduce costs, improve outcomes and enhance the patient experience by putting the power of managing a condition back within their hands. 

It predicts that the global telehealth and telecare market will more than double between 2010 and 2015 to reach £14.3 billion. It also shows that whilst the UK annual spend on telehealth was just under £36 million in 2010, this will grow to £70 million in two years’ time.

Its report was created by looking at literature reviews, case examples, discussions with hey stakeholders and its own experience in working with health and social care providers in the UK, and abroad.

Cost effective?

But not all agree: In March this year, the government was challenged by new analysis of its pilot scheme on telehealth and telecare, which suggested that the cost per QALY gained – the formula NICE uses to assess the value of drugs – was exceptionally high at £88,000 (NICE does not usually recommend a drug over £30,000 per QALY gained).

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

The full report and accompanying video can be found here.