Chris Netherton

Chris Netherton

Managing Director, Microtest

Recent research from Australia on the effectiveness of home health monitoring has massive implications for all of us here in the UK.

Now, we all know that prevention is better than cure. This should be the guiding principle for all healthcare systems. It should also be the guiding principle for each of us – taking care of our own diet and health and doing everything in our power to steer ourselves away from preventable illnesses.

In that context, it intuitively makes sense that providing health monitoring systems for people to use at home should help to improve quality of care and should also save time and money for our overstretched healthcare system.

However, this requires a substantial up-front capital investment in technology and equipment. Organisations like the NHS can find it difficult to justify this if there is no way of measuring what the long term financial payback will be.

At Microtest, we constantly gather information and case studies on the efficiencies and improvements in care that our clinical software systems help achieve, but this is largely at a local, “practice by practice” level. At a national level, there have been surprisingly few large scale studies to quantify the return on investment that could be delivered.

So I was delighted to see that one such study has now been completed in Australia. I was also really excited to see the results that were reported.

The study was conducted by an excellent organisation called CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, a body which receives funding from the Australian government. Their mission is to use scientific research methods and innovative thinking to solve, “once and for all”, some of the key social and health issues facing the country.

CSIRO decided to investigate the effectiveness of home-based electronic health monitoring for patients with chronic conditions, and followed the progress of 287 patients over a 12 month period.

Patients with multiple chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or chronic lung disease account for more than 70 per cent of health system expenditure in Australia and, if current trends continue, there is a danger that this group could consume the entire health budget within 20 years.

The patients in the trial were provided with a telehealth device that included patient/clinician video conferencing capabilities, messaging features and the delivery of clinical questionnaires, as well as vital signs devices to monitor their ECG, heart rate, blood pressure, and more. The nurses involved in the study were constantly reviewing this continuous flow of information, looking for any significant change in vital signs. At the same time, the patients themselves were learning how to self-manage and take more control of their disease.

One of the patients says he owes his life to his new monitoring system:

“In April this year I had a triple bypass and without the monitor we wouldn’t have known that there was anything seriously wrong. It found out things about my heart that I wouldn’t have known about until it was too late and I’d probably be gone by now.”

The team at CSIRO discovered that this type of remote health monitoring delivered:

  • 36% reduction in hospital admissions;
  • 42% reduction in the length of stay in hospital, when people were admitted;
  • 40% reduction in the patient mortality rate.

It also led to reduced demand on hospital outpatient services, reduced visits to GPs, reduced visits from community nurses, reduced specialists visits and a reduced requirement for laboratory tests.

Furthermore, CSIRO estimate that for every dollar spent on electronic health monitoring it yielded a return of five dollars in savings to the healthcare system. All this led them to conclude that investing in these types of systems could lead to an annual saving to the health budget of over 3 billion Australian Dollars.

What would that mean for the UK? Well, allowing for the current exchange rate and for the fact that our population is nearly three times that of Australia, this would translate into a £5 billion per annum cost saving to the NHS.

At Microtest, we are passionate about innovation in healthcare and we are constantly searching for robust, quantified data to support the case for greater investment in eHealth systems.

That search has just taken a major leap forward.

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