Think-tank 2020Health has urged the government to give “firm strategic leadership” to telehealth and not to rely on local health communities to overcome the challenges of getting it used at scale.

Author John Cruickshank argues that current models for caring for people with long-term conditions are “unsustainable”, given the ageing population and the financial constraints being imposed on health and social care services.

However, he warns that the government must take a lead and cannot rely on local health communities “to work it out for themselves.”

He warns that if it does, it risks perpetuating the “small, uncoordinated market that has emerged in the past few years” and squandering the benefits of scale, interoperability and co-operation that could be achieved.

“Telehealth needs so many things to be in place,” Cruickshank told E-Health Insider. “Like any sizeable technology project, it requires some fundamental changes in working practices.

“And it requires them to be made across a lot of stakeholders; primary, community and social care, and into the acute sector. So it has often been put into the ‘too difficult’ category.

“My sense is that there are areas where progress is being made. But it is slow progress. That is why we think that the government needs to take action.”

The report, ‘Healthcare without walls: a framework for delivering telehealth at scale’ sets out a number of specific actions.

It says central government should make the most of incentives in the ‘Liberating the NHS’ white paper to encourage telehealth, and that it should address reimbursement issues through the NHS tariff or initiatives such as Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN).

However, the report also stresses that the telehealth industry has a role to play, by investing in new and innovative services that align with NHS priorities, and developing appropriate pricing models.

Other issues it examines include the need for a code of practice for telehealth systems, the need for staff training, and the need to make commissioners and patients aware of telehealth services to drive demand.

The report has generated supportive comments from health secretary Andrew Lansley and former health minister Stephen Dorrell, who now heads the House of Commons Health Committee.

He said:"The greatest challenge facing the NHS is not how to change its management, but how to make 4% compound efficiency savings over the next four years.

“I welcome this report because it describes a significant way in which some of those efficiency savings can be made [while] at the same time improving quality of care. [Telehealth] is not an option that we can afford to ignore."

However, Cruickshank acknowledged that: “the question is whether [all the right noises] will be turned into action.”

In the current climate, he further acknowledged, a national programme for telehealth is out of the question, and the government will naturally look towards the market to drive developments.

Even so, he argued, the government will have a major opportunity to push telehealth and get the right incentives in place when England’s three Whole System Demonstrator projects report next spring.

Link: Healthcare without walls: a framework for delivering telehealth at scale.