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NHS has to pay docs to put life-sign sensors in patients' digs

Telehealth tech take-up too tardy

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An NHS Trust is having to pay GPs to use its new cost-cutting Telehealth project - which sticks sensors in patients' homes to monitor their life signs.

GPs in the North Yorkshire and York area have been slow to take up the new cost-saving technology, so the Primary Care Trust has resorted to paying them to use the gadgets. GPs get a one-off fee of £200 to install the service in their practices and a further £50 every time they install it for a patient, reports eHealth Insider.

Intended to help patients with long-term conditions to live at home through manned phone lines and sensors in beds and doors and self-reporting test system for vital checks like blood pressure, the Telehealth system is a pioneering attempt to bring technology into NHS care.

It just hasn't delivered the cost savings that NHS bosses were hoping for. The NHS spent £3.2m on 2,000 Telehealth units in early 2010, and savings of £3.4m were expected by the end of 2010-11.

In June 2011, only 350 devices of the 2,000 devices had been deployed and Telehealth had only saved the system £196,000 – a less than impressive 6 per cent of the predicted sum.

However NHS bosses are confident that is only because the devices hadn't been fully deployed. With all 2,000 in action, they predict that the project will easily reap savings of £3.4m or more. Even minus the payouts they're having to give GPs to get the boxes in use.

We've asked how the NHS calculates the £3.4m sum, because based on the current savings per device – unless the new projected savings figure was calculated over a much longer period of time – the savings would look a lot closer to £1m. We await the Department of Health's reply.

On an anecdotal level, the project seems to have had good results with patients quoted by the NHS reporting positive experiences.

Telehealth works by installing a small unit in the patient’s home which enables them to take readings of their vital signs (blood pressure, blood glucose, oxygen levels etc) on a daily basis. The readings are sent via the phone line to a central monitoring centre where any abnormalities can be flagged with the patient’s health professional for further investigation. ®

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