HCL Issue 10 - Page 26

26 COLUMNIST Technology can transform patients’ lives Telehealth drives prevention and empowers patients to take charge of their own wellbeing, says Carol Hughes O ver the last four years, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool has been operating a telehealth service that I help run. So far it has reached more than 7,000 people, with over 1,000 people using it every day. Some 76% of patients report that they have more confidence as a result. The service supports patients with heart failure, type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and a combination of these conditions. We help them understand their condition and how to self-care. We use technology that works on a tablet or smartphone and allows patients to take readings of their vital signs, such as blood pressure and oxygen levels, in their own home. These are fed into a monitoring centre, where I and a group of nurses look for early signs of deterioration and take appropriate action. We aim to prevent patients falling into a cycle of doctors’ appointments and hospital admissions. And patient-reported outcomes show that 30% of people accessing the service have reduced healthcare use while 90% have an improved sense of wellbeing. Separate research has demonstrated a 22%-32% reduction in winter COPD admissions. What these figures don’t convey is the transformative effect on people’s lives. And this is the real measure of success – whether this technology creates a sustained change in patient behaviour and puts them in control. From our everyday contacts, we can see that this system engages patients in actively managing their condition and spotting warning signs. The technology builds their confidence and knowledge. Also, they encourage others to use it. There’s sometimes a tendency to be cynical about the increasing use of technology. Isn’t it just a way to save money while creating a faceless system that pulls patients and Healthcare Leader 2019 Issue 10 practitioners further apart? I’d say the success of telehealth in Liverpool is down to the human element – the technology is simply an enabler. Some people need more one-to-one help but the technology empowers them with information, on a familiar device and in their own home. It’s a powerful and effective way to reinforce health messages because patients are more receptive to information provided in their home. They forget up to 50% of information that is given in hospitals or GP practices. People are also more comfortable in their own surroundings. They tell us things they wouldn’t tell a doctor or nurse. The success of telehealth is down to the human element; technology is simply an enabler However, telehealth isn’t for everyone, so our nurses make home visits to assess whether a person is suitable. Those who use it become well informed about their condition and know that a nurse is available at the touch of a button. We’ve also found that telehealth makes people more assertive. If they were previously worried but reluctant to seek help, they now understand what’s happening and feel able to call before things escalate. Which is the very definition of a preventive approach. Carol Hughes is clinical and operational lead for health technology services at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust