In the News: Telehealth

Researchers from the Netherlands released a report recently in the British Medical Journal discussing a system called ParkinsonNet, which essentially works as a social network -a little like Facebook for Parkinson's sufferers. However, ParkinsonNet doesn't just put people in touch with other patients; it also gives people access to medical professionals, researchers and healthcare experts, allowing those tricky questions and concerns to be addressed quickly and easily. While this is obviously good for the patient's wellbeing and peace of mind, it's also a great way to cut GP appointments and hospital visits, ensuring that emergency cases can be seen more efficiently and resources are not stretched quite as thinly.

It's estimated that this has saved the Dutch healthcare system around 20m Euros - a drop in the ocean compared to the NHS' £100bn budget, but this is just for one relatively rare condition. If the same process could be put in place for more common issues, such as diabetes or asthma, the savings could be enormous.

Telehealth measures have already been undertaken in the UK, with mixed results; the NHS non-emergency 111 number has certainly received criticism but its usefulness as a first point of contact cannot be denied. In Scotland, a dedicated Centre for Telehealth and Telecare is set to become a major part of the country's healthcare system by 2020 by giving patients fast access to consultations with doctors, therapists and nurses where appropriate.

NHS 24 medical director Professor George Crooks, who is in charge of the project in Scotland and an advocate for telehealth overall, commented: "Technology can make face-to-face care more accessible: such as accessing specialist opinion remotely from remote rural or island communities. We will use it, but only where it is safe, effective and, most importantly, appropriate to do so…people use technology to run their day-to-day life - and they now expect to be able to use their tablet, smartphone or computer as a way to access their health and care services."


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