12.00: The conference is just opening – check back in a couple of hours!
22:00 The aim of my reports is to give people who are unable to attend a flavor of the conference. Well, for context, with 800 people attending during the three days and over 40 companies exhibiting it is still big by UK standards. It is notable that the numbers are up despite these difficult financial times.
The opening afternoon’s plenary sessions sent a clear message that telecare call monitoring services should be looking towards telehealth monitoring as a future business opportunity. The TSA is looking to appoint someone to focus on it, and Trevor Single, TSA CEO, announced that they are aiming to produce a Telehealth Code of Practice in 2011.
Kevin McSorley from Fold Telecare in Northern Ireland gave an overview of developments during the past 15-years of the TSA and its preceding organisation. His conclusion was that 15 years is a long time for a quiet revolution…so now is the time to turn up the volume.
He was robust on the need for large scale deployments that are not driven by one-off funding, but by the strength of their business cases. People involved in telecare were, he said, reluctant revolutionaries, but he left the audience with the challenging questions: “If not us, who? And if not now, when?”
James Ferguson, professor of emergency medicine and clinical lead to the Scottish Centre for Telehealth (now part of NHS24) followed with wide-ranging examples of teleconferencing with patients in telemedicine, most of which have been covered in Telecare Aware. The main ‘takeaway’ was that in Scotland the aim is to have a national telehealth service that will focus on: people with strokes; COPD; paediatrics, and mental health. “The most difficult task” he said [speaking as a persuasive person who has experienced it], “is marketing to the organisation, not the patients.” He also added that in the future, healthcare professionals should start to feel nervous if first contact with a patient is not mediated by electronic triaging.
Chris Crockford opened the throttle on further telehealth thinking with a presentation that explained his interest in remote health monitoring as a pilot, a mountaineer and the ex-Business Development Director for McLaren F1 where the scale and complexity of real time remote sensor monitoring already exceeds anything envisaged for health purposes. He then developed the theme of the read-across to technology that people actually want to use and/or find intrusive.
He also provided the quote of the afternoon: “Age…appearing in a mirror near you soon”.
The fourth speaker was Keith Nurcombe, Head of Healthcare for O2, whose three new telehealth projects had publicity recently. (TA item) What was significant about his presentation was that the emphasis was not on the technology despite O2 being part of the Telefonica group which employs over 1,000 people across Europe who are concentrating on developing new technologies. His emphasis was, instead, on listening to the needs of the potential users (“because that’s how O2 got to be so big in the UK so quickly”) in order to make the technology into the enabler and not the driver of developments.
We learned an interesting snippet about O2’s three projects: the technology was apparently given to their NHS partners “before it was on the open market”, as a learning experience for the partners and for O2. He talked about the project in West Berkshire, where it was observed that people were staying in hospital after knee operations for days just so that they could be encouraged to do their exercises by a physiotherapist for about half an hour each day. Using technology to do the same checking and encouragement from home provides a much better outcome for everyone. [However, one can’t help but wonder whether, in the end, the need to sell services and products means that the ‘tell us what you need to do and we will work out how best to do it’ approach will turn out to be too vague to be marketable.]
Thanks to the playful and rather provocative style of the Conference Chair Roy Lilley, the afternoon was rounded off with a lively discussion between the panel and audience members, some of whom seemed slightly stunned by the emphasis on telehealth and several of whom noted that disquiet about the design of most currently available kit had been expressed by a number of speakers. Perhaps, at last, the spell of ‘it saves lives, therefore is must be good’ has been broken.
Tomorrow’s reports will concentrate on the exhibitors’ wares.