The NHS should swap digital health ideas with the US Veterans Health Administration in order to achieve a paperless NHS, says a report by 2020health.

The ‘Making connections’ report marks the launch of a three year exchange programme of healthcare IT ideas between the two organisations.

The programme should be a part of the NHS commitment to placing telehealth at the centre of service transformation, says the think-tank’s report.

The VHA is an integrated healthcare system which offers services to a population of 23m eligible veterans, with around 8.3m currently enrolled.

The VHA’s home relehealth programme, which supports those with mental health issues as well as long-term conditions, had more than 90,000 users last financial year.

The organisation also runs a clinical video telehealth service, which had around 370,000 video consultations last year.

It plans to increase the number of telehealth users to more than 800,000 by the end of this year and is on track to meet its aim of seeing 50% of patients benefiting from one or more elements of digital healthcare by 2014.

John Cruickshank, consultant director at 2020health and co-author of the report, said:

“Whilst successful use of technology has been a key enabler to success in making digital health the first route for delivering a service, it is the underlying culture, leadership, processes and training that have been paramount to the VHA’s success.”

His report recommends that the NHS learns from the VHA and, “?nd ways to move telehealth to become the default delivery channel for services.”

It argues that the NHS should apply telehealth to mental health users and the broader population.

Also, that it needs to include telehealth in “the curricula of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, and relevant local authority staff”.

The VHA telehealth service was a result of an extensive pilot programme which proved both cost benefits and patient satisfaction.

In the UK, the Whole Systems Demonstrator programme, a randomised control trial used to find evidence to support the use of telehealth and telecare, has failed to produce evidence of cost effectiveness.

The aim of the three year exchange programme is to build clinical leadership and engagement and to share best practice.

The 2020health report has been developed with part funding from 3millionlives, the Department of Health’s project to have 3m people benefit from telehealth by 2017.