Lack of funding and evidence scuppering widespread rollout, new evidence suggests
Government plans to roll out telehealth services to millions of people across England over the next five years have been dubbed ‘over ambitious’ by industry experts who predict the adoption of assistive technologies will be slower than expected.
In a report entitled Telehealth: The Next Big Thing? ,analyst Tola Sargeant of TechMarketView claims barriers to adoption are preventing the widespread rollout of telehealth devices.
Firstly, she writes, while there is a stronger sense of central leadership from the Government, this is not backed up by significant funding.
In January of this year, the Department of Health established an enabling framework to promote collaboration between healthcare provider and technology suppliers. However, with no funding to back it up, it’s difficult to see the move as much more than an expression of government aspirations
“In January of this year, the Department of Health established an enabling framework to promote collaboration between healthcare provider and technology suppliers,” she explains. “However, with no funding to back it up, it’s difficult to see the move as much more than an expression of government aspirations. It does, however, lend credibility and some momentum to telehealth initiatives."
Another problem to date, she says, has been the lack of evidence supporting the claimed benefits of telehealth, although this has changed over the past 12 months with a number of pilot schemes demonstrating positive outcomes.
Thirdly, the high capital requirement for telehealth infrastructure has been eased by the introduction of telehealth-as-a-service offerings from specialist suppliers including Air Products, which is piloting a managed telehealth service; and Appello, which offers pay-as-you-go pricing.
Technological developments will also aid adoption, with TechMarketView predicting a move away from traditional telehealth provision, in which specialist hardware is installed in a patient's home, towards services that use household devices such as smartphones and TVs. Meanwhile, faster broadband speeds should allow for further improvements to services.
"Taken together, stronger government policy; growing, though not yet conclusive, evidence from pilots; advances in technology for example smartphone apps and superfast broadband; and more innovative supplier offerings conspire to bring telehealth to the cusp of widescale adoption," Sargeant concludes.
Taken together, stronger government policy, growing evidence from pilots, advances in technology, and more innovative supplier offerings conspire to bring telehealth to the cusp of widescale adoption
Nevertheless, she predicts that adoption will be slow for at least the next three years.
"Our view is that progress will continue to be slower than many expect and that the widespread adoption of telehealth services will take longer than the Government’s plans suggest,” she adds.
Currently there are around 5,000 telehealth users and 1.5 million pieces of kit in use in homes in England. However, there are 15.4 million people with at least one long-term medical condition who could benefit from assistive technologies, figures show.
And a second report published recently by consultant Deloitte’s Centre For Health Solutions, shows this demand will help to create a strong market for UK firms.
It predicts the global telehealth and telecare market will more than double between 2010 and 2015 to reach £14.3billion. It also shows that while the UK annual spend on telehealth was just under £36m in 2010, this will grow to £70m in two years’ time.
Its report was created by looking at literature reviews, case examples, discussions with key stakeholders and its own experience in working with health and social care providers in the UK and abroad.
Both reports come nine months after the Government announced its 3millionlives campaign, which aims to roll out assistive technology to around a fifth of the patients in England who have at least one long-term condition, such as diabetes, COPD and heart disease.
The initiative was launched following the publication of the initial results from the Department of Health’s Whole System Demonstrator (WSD) project, the largest randomised controlled trial of telehealth in the world. It revealed that telehealth helped to reduce A&E visits among those with long-term conditions by 15%, reduced emergency hospital admissions by 20% and reduced elective admissions by 14%. More importantly, the trial, which involved 6,000 people over three UK sites, recorded a 45% drop in mortality rates, and constituted an 8% reduction in tariff cost.
For information on the TechMarketView report, click here.
For details of the Deloitte report, click here.