Hanging on the telephone….

images-2 Timing is everything and mobile giants O2 couldn’t have played it better than launching their new healthcare initiative as a House of Lords committee reported that the nation is ‘woefully underprepared’ for an ageing society.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21782270
Their call for a radically different model of care combined with the financial pressures bearing down on the NHS make the perfect landscape for revealing new home and self monitoring mobile devices designed to check vital signs and provide crucial emergency contact for the elderly living on their own.

With around 23 million customers, O2 should be connected to vast potential as long as their technology functions well, while for the NHS it offers the hope of keeping people out of hospital longer. Trials around the country have local authorities glowing with praise about its ability to reduce hospital admissions and to encourage patients to take a more active role in managing their conditions.

They are not the only firm chasing the health connectivity rainbow as a myriad of exhibits on the blossoming  world of teleheath at the NHS Expo 2013 http://www.healthcareinnovationexpo.com

have demonstrated over the last two days. But they have had the nerve to let people test their Help at Hand system at the sharp end first before revealing their shiny, happy health toys. Cynics will say it is a way of sucking in new customers – the ‘elderly brigade’ are the sole mobile refusniks around –  but health specialists who have tested their various systems see it as a natural part of future care.

The mobile device – £99 handset cost and £20 a month rental – offers connections to a 24/7 call centre, the emergency services and relatives, a fall detection sensor and a nifty geographic zone alert which rings if your relative strays outside pre-set parameters i.e. corner shop – no sound; betting shop/pub – an air raid alert! Aside from the obvious misuse as a tracker for straying partners, it actually does help with independent living and peace of mind for relatives.

Nikki Flanders, O2 Health MD, is a persuasive advocate and has first hand experience of the the difficulties of finding and funding aids that could keep people out of hospital – helping people stay independent is a bit of a NHS blindspot resulting in a conveyer belt of patients needlessly heading to the wards – and believes the service can help the public as well as deliver her company healthy profits.

“It enables people to live independently for longer for early stage dementia and a range of long term conditions,” she says. “There are lots of stats out there saying that your health may not do as well in  hospital as it would at home. It can also work for say a young mum with epilepsy or a father with early Parkinson’s Disease.

“The whole thrust of this is to give people a different option through technology.”

The headline government stat is that telecare and teleheath systems could save the NHS  £1.2 billion over the next five years and, as it looks like there will be multiple financial dips before the funding taps are turned on again, private firms have a crucial role to play in future health.

A bit of crude maths make the deal obvious – a council can spend £99 on a telehealth phone plus the year’s £240 rental and save the @ £1,000 a day it costs to keep someone in a hospital bed. Just one bed day saved and the NHS gets ahead. Economists have also predicted a financial juggernaut heading towards councils who will, if current trends continue, find their entire budgets taken up by health and welfare by 2030 – anything that eases that pain is worth taking.

The device will migrate into an app on a standard smart phone where the purchase price and rental may be higher but, if a company is prepared to R&D and look at a ‘suite of teleheath soloutions’, should we begrudge them their cut? They’ve got to pay Sean Bean’s voiceover wages somehow.


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