Sunday, July 20, 2014

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

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Telehealth: opportunities and challenges for clinicians 

Recent studies suggest that GPs can view telehealth as a threat to their identity as “gateways” to health care (e.g. Segar et al. 2013). This is because, after referral or hospital discharge, patients mainly deal with a telehealth centre. Yet, GPs can also see telehealth as a means of empowerment by giving them more responsibilities in managing such conditions as Heart Failure (HF) early enough to avoid hospitalisations. That is the case when, for example, GPs go for a specialist pathway, such as cardiology, and become GP with Special Interests (GPsIS). Even though some GPs may see the role of GPsIS as undermining their autonomy and identity as general medical professionals (Currie et al. 2012), some GPs may view these new specialisms as an opportunity to enhance their knowledge and their professional status.

Yet, often General Practices do not have the capacity to lead a telehealth project. Their major involvement would require a considerable investment of resources on primary care. Yet, this does not seem to be much different from the resource needs that the hosting of a telehealth centre in a health care community centre involves. Therefore, we can conclude that, if GPs buy into telehealth and they are given enough resources, their level of engagement in the successful implementation of telehealth may be related to how telehealth impacts on their professional status. Such impact may not necessarily be negative but also positive for the sustainable and scalable adoption of telehealth.

Thus, the issue at stake is to understand how GPs can be enrolled into the innovation process enabled by telehealth. GPs can actually influence the course of an innovation in the health service. For example, GPs’ members representatives bodies and other forms of organizations such as clinical advisory groups can have a say in CCG Governing Bodies’ decisions on whether and how an innovation should be put in place.  It is in these circumstances that the role of CCGs in health care IT innovation takes prominence. Given that GPs have a high representation in their governing bodies, it is legitimate to ask how the interplay between their roles of “commissioners” and “medical professionals” influences the quality of relationships with key health service stakeholders affected by telehealth implementation.