In 2004, the former Chief Executive of Kent County Council, Peter Gilroy, initiated a groundbreaking telehealth pilot programme based on work carried out in the United States by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). In conjunction with the Kent primary care trusts, the council set up a programme to help 250 people with long-term conditions to live independently and to improve their quality of life.
The Kent telehealth pilot evaluation report has now been published, covering the period 2005 to 2007. This was a period when community matrons were just coming into post, and the report acknowledges the important role they played in building early momentum and promoting telehealth, particularly among clinicians, who were looking for a pre-existing solid evidence base for remote monitoring.
The report finds that both users and carers embraced the technology, and after seeing the potential benefits, they set up a support network that has been able to help other telehealth users.
Aims of the pilot programme
The pilot programme set out to establish whether outcomes from US studies could be replicated in the UK. This included investigating the role of telehealth in supporting user independence and alleviating carer burden, and assessing its impact on hospital admissions, length of stay, GP contact and nursing visits. Three long-term conditions were included in the study: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary heart disease (CHD) and type 2 diabetes.
Findings of the Kent telehealth pilot study
The study concluded the following:
- Telehealth brought peace of mind and improved quality of life for patients and carers.
- Telehealth supported independence, empowerment and self-management of conditions.
- Patients and carers embraced the technology and valued it.
- People who used telehealth had fewer hospital admissions, shorter lengths of stay, reduced GP contacts and, in some cases, fewer nursing visits.
- Clinicians had regular and reliable patient information and could take appropriate early action to prevent admissions and exacerbations.
- Telehealth promoted better medicines management.
- Financial savings were possible through fewer unplanned admissions, A&E visits and clinician home visits.
It has been estimated that over a six-month period, the telehealth intervention saved an average of £1,878 per patient (confidence level of 0.01, range of £1,038 to £2,718). A rough extrapolation of savings (with some caveats) across Kent, using Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data, indicates that the annual cost savings for 2006-7 could be £7.56 million (confidence level of 0.05, range of £4.18 million to £10.942 million).
In conclusion, the report identifies a number of potential benefits of telehealth for patients and carers, as well as organisations and their staff through improved work processes. The findings also indicate that telehealth can be cost-effective. In addition to this project, Kent County Council have installed telecare in 1,000 homes as part of the Kent telecare pilot, and have recruited 2,103 participants into the Whole System Demonstrator (WSD) Programme that will report its findings in 2011.