“eHealth can benefit citizens, patients, health and care professionals but also health organisations and public authorities. eHealth – when applied effectively – delivers more personalised ‘citizen-centric’ healthcare, which is more targeted, effective and efficient and helps reduce errors, as well as the length of hospitalisation. It facilitates socio-economic inclusion and equality, quality of life and patient empowerment through greater transparency, access to services and information for health”… European Union eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020
Extensive research, ground-breaking technology, and global executive buy-in have laid the foundations for an eHealth (and Telehealth in particular) revolution in our modern industry. As far back as the 58th World Health Assembly, 13 years ago, Telehealth has been put at the centre of strategic healthcare planning. But, has the reality of its implementation been as emphatic as originally planned?
The relevancy and requirement for Telehealth in the modern world isn’t confined to researchers, committees, and established healthcare professionals. It has become glaringly apparent over recent years, that Telehealth is not the future, it is the now. Why? We are now presented with changing demographics, increased consumerism, and the realisation that healthcare has lagged behind other service industries who have embedded powerful information-based systems for decades.
Here in Ireland, implementation of Telehealth has not been without its challenges. While policies and frameworks have outlined the mission (Future Health – A Strategic Framework for Reform of the Irish Health Service 2012-2015, Money Follows the Patient – Policy Paper on Hospital Financing, etc.), a heavily strained Health system has struggled to provide infrastructure and investment to match. Statistics show that Ireland’s national healthcare ICT spend is 0.85% of the total healthcare budget contrastingly lower than the EU average of 2-3%.
However, wide-ranging belief and confidence in the area of Telehealth, and wider eHealth implementation from a range of stakeholders, has delivered some very positive advancements. From impressive Irish-owned innovations such as TickerFit, Beats Medical, Caredoc and Healthlink’s long running respective services, to Cork’s iHeed initiative and startup’s like Wellola offering cloud-based Telehealth software, there is an undeniable movement towards expanding the industry.
Slaintecare proposes to use “eHealth as key tool for developing a universal health system and integrated care”. eHealth Ireland have outlined strategies such as “Cloud First” and “Shift Left” to support its implementation. These strategies signal a very motivating and promising signs of innovation in the Irish public health sector.
In the UK, the initial focus on Telehealth was showcased at the turn of the millennium, as the NHS published papers and programs for the implementation of ICT in the health service in England followed by an £11 billion investment in the decade that followed. Babylon Health recently secured an agreement to service the NHS with online GP services for their public sector patient, with Irish-owned VideoDoc also securing an impressive partnership with Anxiety UK.
Major advancements have been made in Telehealth in England & Wales with significant integration with information-based systems, and notably, one of the largest Telehealth care trials in the world taking place between 2009 and 2011.
In contrast to some extent, Scotland implemented frameworks much later, with their strategy documents not being published until 2008 (eHealth Strategy 2008-2011). However, their progress in the past decade has been very strong. Their implementation of their Patient Management System, coupled with their training and education in the area (Scottish Centre for Telehealthcare (SCT)), has signalled a massive shift towards the Telehealth takeover and commitment to continuous improvement in the industry.
Northern Ireland has also made great strides in Telehealth implementation. Much like their neighbours, the shift towards Telehealth is showcased by their Connected Health and Prosperity agenda, outlining procedural integrations of ICT and Telehealth in to their wider structures, plus the private sector success of their major tele-monitoring service.
Evidently, the procedures, the policies, and the push towards Telehealth in the Ireland and the UK has been substantial, which is positive news for everyone. And encouragingly, the local/regional influence also shows the power of the everyday healthcare provider in driving the implementation of Telehealth and wider eHealth.
The key to continued success now lies with those exact stakeholders, those who can implement Telehealth at grass roots level, day to day. With Telehealth software platforms now increasingly available, with increasingly effective cloud-based technologies, there now remains minimal barriers for all healthcare providers to drive the change further.
If offering patients greater access and convenience is a priority and if future-proofing ones healthcare business is on the agenda then embracing technology is a must; those that embrace telehealth will not only empower their patients but also position their clinics at an even greater competitive advantage.