Telecare Services Association Conference Wed 16 Nov 2011

Not going home with my conference bag on my head

Readers will rejoice to know that I did not have to travel home wearing the conference bag on my head. As I predicted on Monday, Jonathan D Linkous’s presentation entitled What can the UK teach the USA about Telecare delivery and what opportunities does this offer to the UK market? Was all ‘health’ and no ‘telecare’ in the sense that the word is used in the UK.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
started the day by means of a five minute video address. In 2009 he had become an ISfTeH (International Society for Telemedicine & eHealth) ambassador for eHealth. The address was pre-recorded as the previous week he had been in Rio de Janeiro launching the Society’s Global eHealth Ambassadors Program. He said that the UK had a leading role in the development of telecare and telehealth. His reputation for charm and diplomacy is clearly deserved.

Readers, knowing my concerns – well, OK, near-obsession – with the lack of an agreed terminology in this field will not be surprised to learn that my ears picked up when Archbishop Tutu made the point that whatever the words we use, they are a only a tool to reach out to change the lives of people. That’s a perspective I will try to remember Smile

Provocative mHealth presentation

David Doherty of 3GDoctor gave what was arguably the most interesting and provocative presentation of the conference, about mHealth (mobile health).

The core of his proposition is that smartphone communications are rapidly emerging as the next mass medium as the main source of information for people in the way that the internet supplanted television, which supplanted cinema, which supplanted radio, which supplanted newspapers.

He contended that just as the non-smart mobile phone hit the manufacturers of watches and cameras in the noughties, the smartphone and tablet computers are already disrupting other markets, such as for desktop PCs, and will disrupt our accustomed ways of delivering many services, including healthcare. [Telecare Aware readers will be familiar with our reports of adoption of iPads by doctors in the US, and we also heard at the conference that the NHS Direct app, which contains the whole algorithm used in their call centres, has been used over a million times in the 6 months since it was launched.]

David said that “The best opportunity we have of containing future healthcare costs can be achieved by teaching [older] patients to SMS.” He gave examples of how the 3GDoctor service works and of various health apps. Conference Chair Roy Lilley commented that many of the functions of the equipment on display in the exhibition could be replicated on phone and tablet apps.

This session should have triggered more debate: there were audience members I spoke to afterwards who, based on their own preferences regarding phone and internet use, remain to be convinced that these developments have significant implications for their telecare service delivery.


The third speaker was Jonathan Linkous chief executive of the American Telemedicine Association who, as I indicated above, talked about telemedicine and telehealth (undefined) in the US. He focused first on its still patchy adoption. However, in terms of trends which imply that ‘telewhatever’ is becoming embedded into services, he gave the example of ‘teleradiology’ (interpreting X-rays and scans remotely) which is now so commonplace that it is considered ‘normal radiology’ by its practitioners who did not recognise that they were doing ‘tele’ anything!

He rounded off by making public his invitation to the TSA and other such organisations around the world to form an international consortium to share current telehealth service standards and to develop a common set.

There was then a time for further breakout sessions or exhibition visiting.
I noticed a subtle but striking change in the exhibition area this year compared with last. If you asked an exhibitor a question they would be as likely as not to whip out an iPad and show you a presentation or a website as part of the process of answering it. It not only brought home David Doherty’s point about the technology changing ‘service delivery’ but it also highlighted that the experience of sharing a small screen with someone keeps the communication flow personal. So perhaps tablet computers will help bridge doctor/patient communication gaps!

The conference was rounded off by the non-industry speaker, Nick Hewer from the UK’s version of The Apprentice TV show. It was mildly entertaining but when it ran over time many audience members left. Not a reflection on Nick, but to catch trains, one assumes.

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A selection of comments gathered from attendees
[to be added]

Categories: Events - Reports.


  1. Leslie Morson

    Thanks for the conference reports. This year was the first in an age I have not attended conference. Between your reports and the excellent Twitter updates by Mike Clark it was almost as good as being there and cheap at twice the price!

  2. Steve brings up an excellent point–that telecare (defined as remote behavioral monitoring) is getting relegated to the back of the bus by telehealth. To this observer they have always had complementary roles, depending on the individual’s lifestyle, health needs and relationship in the community (connectedness). And home telehealth is similarly being swamped by the sexy mobile apps. Somehow we are forgetting the customer (or patient, resident if you like) and what can keep that person independent and healthier.

    If you need a reason why to view David Doherty slide presentation, the proposal on SMS’s effectiveness on containing healthcare costs for an aging population is it.

    So where’s the debate when you need it?

    Steve, you should have collected bets on the ‘bag on head’. You would have cleaned up because the ATA has been all about telemedicine and telehealth since early days. I was surprised back in 2006 when telecare was the ‘it girl’ at ATA’s lack of depth on the subject.