Audit Scotland logo

Media centre

Telehealth could help the NHS treat patients in new ways and manage rising demands and costs

Posted: 13 October 2011

The National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland should do more to consider telehealth when introducing or redesigning services. It provides an opportunity to treat patients in new ways, and to help manage rising costs and demand.

An Audit Scotland report published today, A review of telehealth in Scotland, looks at how the health service is providing care to patients at a distance, using a range of technologies such as mobile phones, the internet, digital televisions, video-conferencing and self-monitoring equipment. This could include a consultation between a patient and a doctor being carried out at different locations using video-conferencing.

The report says NHS boards must look at new ways of delivering care, particularly as the NHS is facing growing demand. Telehealth has the potential to help deliver a range of clinical services more efficiently and effectively, and boards should be considering it when introducing or redesigning services.

Telehealth is popular with patients, doctors and nurses who have used it. Its benefits include less travel, faster diagnoses and fewer hospital admissions. However there have been limited opportunities for clinical staff to gain experience of using it, and more education and training is needed.

Auditor General for Scotland, Robert Black, said:

“The NHS in Scotland is facing serious pressures, from the ageing population and increasing numbers of people with long-term health conditions such as diabetes and respiratory illnesses. Telehealth could help to provide a range of services efficiently and effectively. Where it has been used, patients, doctors and nurses generally like it.”

Audit Scotland looked at the use of telehealth to monitor patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) at home. The report concluded that telehealth management of COPD patients at home might help NHS boards avoid costs of around £1,000 per patient per year, mostly through reducing admissions to hospital.

There are about 70 small initiatives across Scotland which have identified the benefits of telehealth. Three large-scale UK projects, involving at least 37,000 people should improve the evidence. The first of these is due to report later in the year.

The Scottish Centre for Telehealth has recently been merged into NHS 24 and the Scottish Government has put in place a new e-Health strategy. These changes should help the development of telehealth services across the country.

Back to top