There is a misconception that the benefits of telemedicine are limited to remote, rural communities in the developing world. Whilst there are great examples of how the technology can beneficial in this situations, telemedicine is having a huge impact much closer to home.
The UK government estimates that telehealth could result in a 20% reduction in emergency admissions, a 15% reduction in accident and emergency (A&E) visits and a 45% reduction in mortality .
There are an estimated 150,000 strokes in Britain each year which cause around 67,000 deaths. But a study by the University of Glasgow found that patients given a blood-thinning drug to restore blood flow in the brain within 90 minutes of the appearance of the symptoms of stroke were two and half times more likely to have a good recovery than those not given the drug. The NHS Cumbria and Lancashire Cardiac and Stroke Network (CSNLC) has been using telemedicine technology to facilitate this since 2011.
CSNLC uses a combination of 'telestroke carts' and video software on consultants' laptops to care for 2.2 million people spread over 3,500m². Patients with suspected stroke are taken to their nearest hospital. They are then treated by a consultant over video. There are 16 consultants to cover the area and they may not always be physically present to make a diagnosis. By confirming whether the patient has suffered a stroke and the type of stroke, the consultant can recommend thrombolysis treatment. Thrombolysis can only be given within four and a half hours of stroke symptoms starting, though the sooner it is given the better. About 10 per cent of people treated with thrombolysis will make a good recovery. If it is given within two hours, the recovery rate is even better.
Over 520 patients in Cumbria and Lancashire have benefited from the telestroke service since its launch in July 2011, with over 220 of those patients receiving thrombolysis. In addition to improving care for patients, improving coverage and work-life balance for physicians, and saving lives, the telestroke service also reduced the NHS costs associated with dependent stroke care by approximately £30,000 per patient.
Following a stroke it's common for the patient to develop swallowing difficulties and each case requires an assessment by a Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) practitioner. The majority of stroke sufferers are elderly, and as such bringing them to SLT sessions can be difficult, exhausting or distressing for patients. Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation connects nursing staff with patients via audio and video link in nursing homes or their own abode. This avoids travel by the patient, or home visits from the SLT specialists, saving on average £110 and 1.5 hours in travel per appointment.
Cost savings are an important factor in an increasingly stretched National Health Service. Streamlining resources effectively and in a way that improves patient care is a top priority. By enabling paediatric neurologists to perform remote consultations and assessments via video Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation Trust has been able see patients more quickly at its multiple hospital sites across Liverpool, Crewe and Leighton. Patients have already benefitted from the solution and noted the improved level of service, and the system has helped to relieve pressure and free up valuable time.
Developments in telemedicine are benefitting patients with a broad range of needs as well as improving hospital services and improving resource allocation across the NHS. Significant progress has been made towards three million people being able to benefit from telehealth by 2017 in the UK, so these programmes could be coming to hospital near you soon.