Ten years on from the WSD: is the future brighter for telehealth? Can wind farms help?

As Prof Mike Short pointed out recently, 2016 is the tenth anniversary of the start of the Whole System Demonstrator (WSD) programme that in retrospect, because of poor trial design, probably slowed the uptake of digital health in the UK more than any other single action. It seems appropriate therefore to look at how telehealth* has fared over that period, and perhaps even more importantly, is poised for the next ten years.

The mistakes of the WSD are well documented (eg here, here & here) – suffice it to say that it proved beyond all reasonable doubt, at least to this editor, that unlike medicine-based interventions, which seem less sensitive to their care pathway, digital health delivers most of its benefit through enabling a different, patient-centred care delivery, so every digital health intervention needs to be evaluated holistically, and in its own care pathway. Sadly over the ten years, much of the academic work looking at the benefits of telehealth has continued to evaluate the technology in the time-honoured way that medicines have been evaluated, with predictably largely equivocal results.

Those of us who have delivered telehealth projects though have a sense of disconnect as, time and again, a focused implementation – not a pilot – in which the staff delivering the service understand that it will be a permanent change for which they need radically to change the way they deliver care, yields huge returns on investments through savings typically in the 50-90% region. (more…)

What it takes to make telehealth really work

In line with my fellow editor, forgive this editor engaging in a little nostalgia – going back to 2006, when the Whole System Demonstrator was a still a wonderful idea, before the competing forces of academia and management consultancy put short-term financial gain before long term patient outcome improvement. Those were the days when we genuinely believed that recording vital signs was what it was all about.

Move on nine years and it’s clear from the American Heart Association review referred to in this column recently, and subsequent articles, that one key success factor is drip-fed education. To quote:

“The amount of information that must be conveyed and the support that is necessary to counsel and motivate individuals to engage in behaviors to prevent CVD are far beyond what can be accomplished in the context of face-to-face clinical consultations or through traditional channels such as patient education leaflets,” the researchers say. “Mobile technologies have the potential to overcome these limitations and to transform the delivery of health-related messages and ongoing interventions targeting behavior change.”

This is underlined by a recent study of attempting to control hypertension using just text messaging, which was far from an unqualified success.

Another major driver of course is cost saving, as demonstrated by (more…)