Patients monitor health through computer technology

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By Karrie Gillett

A NEW device for patients to carry out their own health checks and send the information to a doctor has been developed in a bid to cut hospital admissions.

The Telehealth system allows sufferers of long-term conditions to have their health monitored daily without needing to visit their GP surgery.

Now, health chiefs are aiming to roll the service out to more patients in an effort to prevent unplanned hospital visits.

The personal healthcare system works by installing a small computer in the patient’s home with high-speed broadband internet connection.

The patient takes readings of their blood pressure, oxygen levels and weight before entering the data into the computer and sending to their doctor.

The computer is also fitted with a webcam– enabling the patient to have a video consultation with their GP.

It was piloted in 30 homes across West Lothian, Midlothian and Edinburgh and is now being rolled out to 400 more patients.

Nicola Sturgeon, Health Secretary, said the technology would save hundreds of people from making repeated trips into hospital.

She said: “I am very excited by the potential for telehealth to bring care as close to home as possible – in this case, into people’s own homes.

“By harnessing all that new technologies can offer us we can also make care quicker and safer and invest in a twenty-first century health service to be proud of.”

The touch screen computer allows people with chronic conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to undertake health checks including blood pressure and peak flow breathing tests.

Raymond Bowes, from Blackburn in West Lothian, has suffered with COPD since being diagnosed nine years ago and has been taking part in the trial for seven months.

Mr Bowes, 49, had been hospitalised twice in 2007 after feeling ill and eventually ended up with pneumonia.

He carries out a round of health checks at 10am every day and said the tests could eliminate the risk of his failing health going unnoticed ever again.

He said: “The biggest advantage is the reassurances I get. It’s like a safety net. Some days I could be feeling unwell and not know if I’m seriously ill or not – it’s a thin line with COPD.

“But doing the tests every day means I’ll know if there’s something really wrong.

“It’s a really good feeling to know there’s someone looking after me on a daily basis.

“I think it’s fantastic and it has really made a big difference to my life.”

Mr Bowes’ GP, Dr Brian McKinstry, is the lead researcher of the project which is being funded by NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government.

Dr McKinstry – a GP in Blackburn for 25 years – checks the results every day and is alerted to any drastic change in his condition immediately.

He said: “COPD is a serious condition and patients can be become very ill fairly quickly.

“What we know from previous studies is that if you can get in there early you can actually prevent hospitalisation and a deterioration in the condition.

“The Telehealth system allows patients to measure their vital signs and we can look at that data and identify when patients are becoming ill and intervene.

“We’ve had a tremendous response from the patients. They love doing this and they’re extremely happy with the service they have got.”

The system costs around £1,000 to install in a patient’s home – but NHS Lothian hope a reduction in costs of unplanned hospital visits will return significant savings in the long run.

Similar sized trials in other countries have shown hospital admissions reduced by around 30 per cent and results of the roll out across NHS Lothian will be evaluated in trials by researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

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