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Clinician using telehealth technology
Health Series: Research Spotlight

High-tech support helps people hold onto their independence

The UK's growing and rapidly ageing population is placing additional pressures on our health and social care system.

As technology develops, there are new methods of remotely monitoring, reporting and utilizing health and personal information ranging from blood sugar and blood pressure levels to falls.

This technology has huge potential to help maintain health and provide timely intervention and to keep people safe, healthy and independent in their own homes for longer. As this requires significant investment, the Government needed solid scientific evidence to determine whether to support its roll-out.

Experts at City University London have led an influential research programme investigating the benefits and challenges of tele-assistive devices, as well as their deployment in health and social care. Its findings have stimulated debate, shaped policy world wide and highlighted the need for service redesign.

The largest study of its kind in the world

Telehealth is the remote exchange of data between a patient and healthcare professional and can be used to monitor things like blood pressure. Telecare is the remote, automatic and passive monitoring of changes in a person's condition or lifestyle using things like movement and fall sensors.

To obtain scientific evidence around the potential of these devices, in 2008 the Department of Health funded the Whole Systems Demonstrator study (WSD) - the largest randomised control trials of telehealth and telecare in the world. Involving 6,191 patients, 238 GP practices, 25 researchers and six institutions, it was led by City's Professor Stanton Newman, Dean of the School of Health Sciences.

The Whole Systems Demonstrator study is used in consultations with NHS Trusts, manufacturers, Royal Colleges and European leaders
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The study examined whether this technology could reduce patients' reliance on other NHS services and lower the cost of their care; whether it could improve their wellbeing, quality of life and ability to care for themselves; what its economic consequences would be; and how it would need to be organised. It also looked at patients', carers' and professionals' experiences of the technology.

Improving three million lives

The WSD's research was of sufficient size, breadth and quality to produce strong evidence in an area previously held back by limited research. The Department of Health, UK Government, and Health Services in other countries along with  local health and social care authorities have used these findings to decide whether and how to implement this new and potentially powerful set of technologies.

As Prime Minister David Cameron announced, the technologies have the potential to improve the lives of three million people and put the UK at the forefront of global healthcare:

"We've trialled it, it's been a huge success and now we're on a drive to roll this out nationwide. The aim - to improve three million lives over the next five years. This is going to make an extraordinary difference to people."

The study's evidence is also being used in consultations with NHS Trusts, social service organisations, device manufacturers, Royal Colleges and European leaders and policy makers.

The Department of Health amongst other parts of the health sector continues to work with the WSD team to investigate the impact of tele-assistive devices on service providers, consumers, service users and informal carers, as well as to shape techniques for integrating these tele-assistive devices in health and social care.

A new chapter in healthcare

This has been a hugely important research project, enabling Department of Health and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funding to drive a new chapter in UK and international healthcare based on unrivalled scientific evidence. It has the potential to impact millions of patients as well as the carers who look after them.

Definition
NHS Trust

A National Health Service trust is a division within the English NHS generally serving either a geographical area (commonly the nominal service area of a hospital) or a specialised function (such as an ambulance service). In any particular location there may be several trusts involved in the different aspects of health care for a resident.

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.