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Henry Purcell (British Journal of Cardiology)

Clinical Articles, Lead Article

Do we need more telehealth?

We have yet to encounter a “sea change” in the adoption of new technologies such as telehealth and telemedicine, in the view of Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham MP. Why is this?

Speaking at a meeting organised by 2020health, a “grass-roots, health and technology policy Think Tank,” at the Microsoft offices in London recently, Mr Burnham described how the NHS is paid by those who “go through the door,”  know as an “episodic tariff,” and thereby the hospital has become the “default setting”.

In fact what we need is to create the reverse, where the home becomes the default, he said. While, at present, the social side of care is outside of the healthcare system, “We need to look towards the wider determinants of health” where the physical, mental and social needs of patients are integrated, “that’s the nub of it” in Mr Burnhams view.

“There should be a decisive switch towards prevention,” he went on, utilising new technologies such as telehealth – the delivery of health-related services and information via telecommunications technologies. This, an extension of telemedicine, encompasses preventative, promotive and curative aspects of health. It may be as simple as using the phone to communicate with patients, to more sophisticated transmission of medical images and health informatics.

Mr Burnham described the fear of isolation and neglect in old age now commonplace, as the need of more social and medical care in the elderly increases – something we “cannot allow to happen,” he said.

We need to “triage” the older more at risk individuals in the community and stop the drift towards hospital. This requires a re-think from first principles and demands an integration of care, away from the present very narrow medical perspective. “We need to exploit technology to help” and this “can’t come a moment too soon,” Mr Burnham concluded.

“Our love affair with technology seems to extend into every area of our lives but health,” in the view of Julia Manning, Chief Executive of 2020health. This raises a number of questions on how we can engage both professionals and patients towards participation in such new initiatives.

Andy Burnham, MP

Andy Burnham, MP

Julia Manning, CEO of 2020health

Julia Manning, CEO of 2020health

Published on: May 22, 2013

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