Review urges adoption of new health technology amid worries over finances

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a LANDMARK review of healthcare in North Yorkshire last year made a series of recommendations to secure the long-term stability of NHS services in the county which has been hit by financial crises for a decade.

Among them was a call for wider use of telehealth alongside councils particularly in rural parts.

There are 50,000 people with heart ailments, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes in the county.

Typically, patients with long-term illnesses account for 70 per cent of NHS spending, half of all GP appointments and two-thirds of outpatient appointments – but telehealth has the potential to significantly reduce their demand and deliver major savings.

However, the programme to purchase 2,000 telehealth devices signed in March 2010 was hampered from the start by a lack of support from GPs. A survey of practices found many were worried about an increase in workload from managing alerts from the technology – although in practice only three per cent of patients each day generate concerns.

Some doctors were also sceptical about the ability of sick and elderly patients to operate it despite a survey of 200 users which showed 96 per cent would recommend it to others.

A report in June found 341 patients were using telehealth ranging from 121 in York to only four in Ryedale. Two thirds had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a third had heart failure and two per cent were diabetics. Only seven GP practices with 34 patients were involved as the bulk of patients were referred by community and mental health staff.

Latest figures show 659 patients have been referred for telehealth since the programme was launched but only 70 by GPs.

Patients tend to be referred by community teams because they had regular contact with patients at home and are better placed to decide if people could benefit.

GP practices are now being offered one-off payments of £200 to cover the initial workload in referring patients, plus £50 per installation and £50 for patients requiring it for more than six months.

In future there are plans to deploy units to 1,000 heart patients at York hospital, 100 heart patients at Scarborough hospital and 100 patients of the Haxby GP group.