A pioneering telehealth project has shown that Kent could save £7.5m a year by using assistive technology.

A report published this month on the Kent Telehealth Pilot, which ran from 2005-2007 and covered 250 patients, says that use of telehealth saved an average of £1,878 per patient in 2006-7.

The figure is based on reduced unplanned admissions, A&E visits, nurse and GP home visits and better use of clinicians’ time.

The report claims a “rough exptrapolation” using Hospital Episodes Statistics suggests that if telehealth was used for the management of all Kent patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and heart disease there would be a saving of £7.5m a year.

The Kent project, which had the highest concentration of telehealth users in the UK in 2007, was originally meant to be rolled out to GP practices. However, the pace of engagement was slow and the project says its biggest successes followed the recruitment of two specialist community matrons.

An evaluation of 143 patients who used telehealth and were monitored daily by a community natron or specialist nurse over a six month period found they logged 77 fewer A&E visits and 849 less bed days over a six month period.

Patients monitored less often, either three times a week or less, also recorded a fall in bed days and A&E visits, but the difference was lower. These 59 patients experienced 11 fewer A&E visits and 313 less bed days.

The report says acceptance and useability of the technology was a major risk for the programme, but patients and carers embraced it. In fact, they reported that it brought peace of mind and that they were empowered to take better control of their lives and conditions.

Qualitative findings from a telephone survey of 86 participants found 91% believed that telehealth had helped them to manage their condition more effectively, with 98% saying that they would recommend telehealth to other people.

The pilot was a joint project between Kent County Council and NHS Eastern and Coastal Kent and NHS West Kent. Oliver Mills, Kent County Council’s managing director for Adult Social Services, said he believed the financial implications were huge.

He added: “I think the evidence we have in Kent is that this has massive implications across the whole of the UK and I hope very much that people will take this up.

"This is the best way of supporting people with long term conditions to live independently – and at the same time it is the best use of public money.”

Kent has 179 people still using the equipment supplied under the original pilot. It was one of the three sites chosen for the Whole System Demonstrator project, and has recruited 2,103 patients to take part in the randomised controlled trial of telehealth which began in 2007 and is due to complete this year.