The use of telehealth – in which chronic patients are monitored remotely in their homes through Internet-connected devices – is likely to take off in the medium term here in the UK, according to analyst company TechMarketView.
In a report entitled Telehealth: the next big thing?, analyst Tola Sargeant wrote that a number of the current barriers to telehealth adoption are starting to fall.
Firstly, Sargeant wrote, there is stronger sense of central leadership from the government. In January of this year, the Department of Health established an ‘enabling framework’ to promote collaboration between healthcare provider and technology suppliers.
"With no funding to back it up, it’s difficult to see the move as much more than an expression of government aspirations," Sargeant wrote. "It does, however, lend credibility and some momentum to telehealth initiatives."
Another problem has been the lack of evidence supporting the claimed benefits of telehealth. This has changed, 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 pilotting a managed telehealth service, and Apello, which offers pay-as-you-go pricing.
Technological developments willl also aid adoption. TechMarketView predicts 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 richer services.
"Taken together, stronger government policy, growing (though not yet conclusive) evidence from pilots, advances in technology (e.g. smartphone apps and superfast broadband) and more innovative supplier offerings conspire to bring telehealth to the cusp of wide-scale adoption," Sargeant concludes.
Nevertheless, she wrote, 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."
In March of this year, care service minister Paul Burstow MP said that telehealth technology could save the NHS £1.2 billion over five years. "In the right hands and used in the right way, this is a set of tools that can make a very big difference indeed," he said.