An automated telephone alert system to warn people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) about forthcoming bad weather has cut emergency hospital admissions by more than a fifth, according to the Met Office.

Healthy Outlook, the health forecasting service provided by the Met Office, was used to alert more than 8,000 patients from 189 GP practices across the UK over the winter of 2007/8.

The Met Office says accurate COPD health risk forecasts are possible by combining the weather with factors such as respiratory viruses and seasonal patterns. It has worked with Finnish healthcare software developer Medixine to set up its service that triggers an automated interactive voice response system to alert patients with COPD when there is an upcoming high-risk period.

Last winter four alert calls were made and hospital admissions for COPD fell by 24% in those using the service, compared to the winter of 2006 when the service was not being used. Emergency admissions in practices not taking part in the scheme only fell by 3%.

A patient survey conducted by the Met Office found that the call prompted 37% of patients to contact their GP surgery to get a repeat prescription and 11% consulted their doctor about worsening symptoms. Practice staff are alerted by e-mail the day before calls are made and again once calls are completed.

More than two-thirds of patients (68%) found the call useful and 62% felt reassured after the call.

The service costs £18 per patient plus set-up costs and areas using the service include Bradford, Cornwall and West Cheshire PCTs, Rhondda Cynon Taff Local Health Board and health communities in East Lothian, Moray and West Glasgow.


Met Office COPD Health Forecasting Service