Telehealth technology, which uses sensors and telecommunications to monitor patients with long-term illnesses in the home, could save the NHS £1.2 billion over five years, according the Minister for State for Care Services, Paul Burlow MP.
Burlow made the claim at the International Congress on Telehealth and Telecare yesterday in London. His estimates were based on a two-year telehealth pilot programme run by the Department for Health.
Starting in 2008, the scheme included 6191 patients with diabetes, heart failure or lung disease, and 238 GP practices in Newham, Kent and Cornwall.
The scheme found that telehealth, if delivered correctly, could reduce the number of hospital visits and reduce mortality by up to 45%. Burlow described this finding as "quite unexpected and truly extraordinary."
He warned, however, that telehealth had be integrated properly with patient care plans. "[The technology] will only ever fulfil its potential if it is integrated into a properly designed patient care plan, if it supports what a particular individual actually needs."
He added that the reach of telehealth services is constrained by rural broadband coverage, and that adoption may be curtailed by a lack of understanding in the NHS. "But in the right hands and used in the right way, this is a set of tools that can make a very big difference indeed."