Time for telehealth to hit the High Street?

Earlier this week I attended a telehealth event that brought together a small number of suppliers to discuss the 3 Million Lives Campaign. The campaign, which aims to provide telehealth and telecare to three million people over the next five years, is still in its early stages with relatively few users and some way to go to convince trusts and commissioners that the technology is cost effective and can improve outcomes.

Attendees at the roundtable discussed a number of challenges for telehealth including standardisation, interoperability, commoditisation, cost and evidence, which was of course followed by the question of how suppliers can convince CCGs and trusts to purchase and provide telehealth solutions to their local population.

What struck me was that despite the key concept of telehealth being about empowering patients, giving them greater choice and encouraging them to take ownership of their health and conditions, there was little mention of the involvement of the end user.

Outside of my profession, most people I talk to about telehealth have no idea what it is, the best response that I get is usually “the red button elderly people have on string around their neck” or an iPhone app that does X, Y and Z.

In my mind, there is a huge amount of work to be done in terms of educating the patient about telehealth and its benefits. So far this has really been limited to a couple of national headlines that really focus on how the technology can help to redesign services and save money to the benefit of the NHS.

But surely in order for the uptake of telehealth to be increased there needs to not only be demand from commissioners in the NHS, but more so from the patient. There needs to be greater awareness in the public domain about how telehealth can impact the individual, improve their health and lifestyle and save THEM money from, for example, fewer trips to the hospital or keeping them out of residential care for longer.

Perhaps it’s not only time for telehealth to be making the headlines at a regional or national level on a more regular basis, but for a more front-facing approach where small telehealth shops take to our high streets with technology from a multitude of suppliers and experts on hand to give advice and demonstrations.

Although there could be issues around supply and demand here, which would need to be addressed, this could be a necessary step to truly educate the public and drive the demand from the people that matter most.

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