Hyperbole, pets & apps: a brief romp around the digital health scene

In technology, over-use of the term “groundbreaking” is common. However it takes some nerve to use the term to describe “Home Assist”, a push-button pendant-based telecare service now being sold by Boots (provided by Tunstall). Whilst TTA can only applaud the arrival of another high street offering, we would counsel a more realistic service description for a telecare service already offered by many.

Research via Boots’ own website reveals that in addition to the advertised push-button pendant, a falls detector is available as well. This site gives price details too, which look quite competitive at the basic level with non-subsidised local authority telecare schemes, though of course without the linkages to local services, including response services in the event eg of a fall, that some of these schemes also offer. Downloading the in store leaflet gives yet further information, for example that the pricier ‘advanced’ package includes a smoke detector (surely for older people almost as important as a basic pendant, and ideally one/floor of your house?) and bogus call detector, as well as falls detector etc.

Meanwhile in a far off land (Los Angeles to be precise) Active4Pets are busy recruiting to accelerate the US rollout of their “innovative” telehealth communication platform for pets. The (admittedly far-fetched) thought of pets regularly reporting vital signs electronically conjures up all sorts of bad, (though unavoidable) puns such as:

  • Will labs be expected to do tests?
  • Can cats provide scans?
  • Can fish report weight using their own scales?
  • Has the service been approved by the US Dept of Vets Affairs?

(As our Chief Editor, Donna, points out, there is Voyce too, the canine activity/heart rate monitoring wearable.)

In the real world, the winners of the Rosalind Franklin Appathon that we previously mentioned here have been announced. Congratulations to the overall winner of Challenge 2 App Pioneer: eSexual Health and of Challenge 1 Best New App: AMazing STEMM Trailblazers. Remaining on apps, a recent Accenture survey has shown a doubling of app usage in the US over two years, and a more-than-doubling of wearable usage, albeit from a lower base, over the same period, with doctors showing a similar increase in support for their use by patients. All very encouraging; TTA has requested a copy of the survey as it apparently also includes a survey of attitudes in “England” (sic).

Closely related, the Digital Health.London accelerator was launched on Monday – health & care start-ups in the London area should consider applying. The Mayor of London has also just introduced Tech Londoners, a programme to connect people in London with health & care needs with entrepreneurs who want to solve them. The first focus is on those with chronic conditions.

Finally, seemingly unaware of the reasons why the WSD failed to demonstrate that telehealth was a cost effective aid to the treatment of long term conditions, HSCIC now believes it has overcome that high cost with a Raspberry Pi-based telehealth kit (MediPi) for just £250. Apparently a trial in an unnamed trust is planned for next financial year, just as Leman Micro’s new chip set will likely start turning the next generation of standard smartphones into telehealth hubs that read all vital signs (including blood pressure) at no hardware cost to the NHS. Even then, there will doubtless still be occasions when telehealth is shown to be poor value for money, when those deploying it fail to recognise that technology’s role is to make possible new ways of delivering care: if you simply add technology to an existing care pathway without changing it, you will only realise minimal benefit, if any.

Hat tip to Prof Mike Short for the Appathon & Accelerator news.

Categories: Latest News.


  1. Barbara

    We visited one of Boots Flag ship stores in London as a bit of a Mystery Shopper experience as their leaflet said that this store could provide further information and help with ordering. After speaking to 5 members of staff including a pharmacist and the in store health care advisor, no one had a clue about the service. They hadn’t heard of it, there’s was no marketing leaflets available in store and no hint of any ways to purchase, so we left the store non the wiser.

    Clearly the “ground-breaking” service hasn’t cascaded down yet to the very stores who are supposed to be selling it and promoting it.

    Whether a brand that sells tens of thousands of products can fully train their staff to offer reliable advice is questionable. Its a shame if this is true across all the other highlighted stores as it’s not a great start. This doesn’t do the industry any good. Other High St chains have tried and failed at implementing telecare provision, Tesco being one of those. Lets hope Boots prove to be better than them and provide a service thats worthy of the brand and of the Telecare industry as a whole.