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Auditors call for greater use of ‘telehealth’ systems in Scotland

By Keith Aitken in Edinburgh | 13 October 2011

Scottish health authorities should make much greater use of ‘telehealth’ services to manage rising costs and demands, Audit Scotland said today.

Telehealth covers the range of communication technologies used for diagnostic and therapeutic applications, often remotely. It varies from consultations by mobile phone or video link to self-monitoring equipment in patients’ homes.

Auditor general for Scotland Bob Black said: ‘The NHS in Scotland is facing serious pressures from the ageing population and increasing numbers of people with long-term health conditions such as diabetes and respiratory illnesses. Telehealth could help to provide a range of services efficiently and effectively.

‘Where it has been used, patients, doctors and nurses generally like it.’

The Scottish Government has been pushing the idea for more than half a decade, seeing particular advantage for Scotland in remote and rural parts of the country.

Three years ago, ministers merged the Scottish Centre for Telehealth with the NHS 24 service and published a plan to take the idea forward.

But Audit Scotland’s report says uptake has remained patchy and most initiatives are fairly small-scale. It wants health boards to give these techniques much greater consideration when introducing or redesigning clinical services. It also calls on them to invest more in training staff to make effective use of the technology.

Although the report accepts that the technology is not appropriate to every circumstance, it says: ‘Clinical staff whom we interviewed were all positive about their experience of telehealth and the benefits it delivers for both them and their patients.’

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