Health Care Integration through Telehealth
In the past few years there has been a lot of emphasis on integrated health care provision. This goes along side patient-centred care whereby health and social care teams work closely together in the community to provide a more holistic care plan to patients with multiple Long Term Conditions (LTC). By integrating health and social care services, commissioners hope to reduce avoidable admissions and outpatients’ services utilization.
Telehealth can enable better health and social care services integration and out-of-hospital strategies by empowering patients to manage their health better and by providing health and social care teams in the community with the capability to monitor patients’ conditions in their homes. The idea behind telehealth is to implement a continuous care plan that prevents patients from entering a critical stage, which would then require no other means but hospitalization.
Effective care plans of patients with complex health conditions also require specialist medical skills that from the hospital need to be deployed in the community. Thus, telehealth can work as a powerful tool of integration between secondary and primary care services. Taking the example of Heart Failure (HF), telehealth can be used as an enabler of an integrated cardiology pathway whereby skills of specialist nurses and consultants at the hospitals can be used in the community. For GPs this means working closely with both hospitals and community services for a better care plan of their patients.
Yet, in recent years, the gap between hospitals and primary care services has widened due to competition among providers. Many hospitals are big powerful organizations that take most of the health budget. Commissioners often need to purchase services from more than one hospital to provide their patients with enough choice for their treatment. Therefore, the design and implementation of a cost-effective telehealth pathway require commissioners to work closely with GPs, primary care and secondary care providers. These actors should work together towards an integrated health care service delivery model, whereby both specialist and generic medical services are provided to patients affected by LTC in the community.