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Telehealth is a means by which patients with chronic conditions can monitor their own vital signs daily, with easy-to-use equipment that talks them through each steps, then automatically transmits the data via the phone line to a central company that supplies the equipment. Readings that are outside a patient’s pre-set limits triggers an alarm and the patient is immediately contacted.
The aim of this service is ultimately to reduce financial burden on the NHS (saving £1.2 billion over five years, according to Paul Burstow, the minister for care services), whilst also helping the patient by maintaining dignity, convenience and independence.
However, the system has been subject to much scrutiny of late, with the British Medical Association as well as other prominent figures and institutions claiming that the cost reduction is dubious and that Telehealth was unlikely to prove cost-effective when measured against the threshold set by NICE.
The debate continues and until the mountain of data is analysed, we will not know how effective this system is. But it could be possible that more and more of us will be turning to the ‘virtual doctor’ to manage conditions such as COPD, diabetes and heart disease.