Telehealth Schemes “Flagging”, But Don’t Blame Telehealth

In short

In an article published today on UK’s Pulse General Practice news vehicle, it is reported that telehealth initiatives are failing at local level despite significant per patient incentive payments to GPs.

Background

The article, which can be found here, identifies the basic problem of a lack of GP engagement in the initiative. While the NHS has gone ahead and purchased 1500 so-called telecare units from Tunstall Healthcare, it would appear that the GP community has been slow to adopt the concept, citing lack of evidence of effectiveness, complexity and spiralling implementation costs.

The failure of this initiative is being held up as an example of how post-implementation of the current NHS reforms (placing commissioning in the hands of GPs), such a shambles would never have occurred. From the article, Dr Paul Cundy, chair of the GPC’s IT subcommittee, said: “Another stunning success for telehealth. This illustrates just how incompetent NHS managers can be. They are coming up against skilled sales people and signing ridiculous contracts that no GP would sign.”

But let’s get this right. This isn’t a failure of telehealth, but a failure of planning, implementation, communication… management really. What would be criminal would be an admission of defeat and a dropping of the initiative, because that would effectively mean telehealth, the much used catch-all expression and so obviously vital component of future healthcare would have been disposed of because of poor management.

Then there’s the flip side that says it’s not failed, it’s just taking a long time. Fundamental change takes time to communicate internally in a huge population such as the healthcare community, let alone at patient level. Charging headlong at this with unrealistic targets and overambitious expectations is almost doomed to failure first time around because cultural change simply takes vastly more time and effort than one might imagine. Telehealth looks so obvious to everyone that it’s easy to assume too much. So maybe what we’re looking at is not actually failure of a technology, just a failure to correctly estimate how long it will take to bed in.

Bunging GPs £70 a patient doesn’t feel right though does it? Desperate, but not right. Surely GPs don’t need the lure of filthy lucre to drive them towards future healthcare technology? Do they?

Our prediction is that telehealth initiatives will become standard practice in many areas within five years. This is a great big bump in the road, that’s all. It needs better engagement at all levels, not least with companies selling these solutions, because the smell of exploitation of a new technology is one thing that’s certainly going to get right up the noses of those charged with implementation.

Source: Pulse, medlatest staff