Scotland is one of the leaders in telehealth in Europe but we need to maintain that momentum, Professor George Crooks, director of the Scottish Centre for Telehealth and Telecare has said.
Addressing the first day of Holyrood magazine’s two-day telehealthcare summit in Glasgow, Crooks, who is also the medical director of NHS24, outlined some of the thinking behind the SCTT’s forthcoming joint telehealth and telecare strategy.
“The strategy will say that we will not be looking to deploy one solution for one problem. We will look to promote not just health but wellbeing. We will empower people to make services, information and the wider community accessible to them and we have to deliver value,” said Crooks.
Technology is an “enabler”, not the “prime focus”, he explained.
“We are not going to re-engineer face-to-face care out of the NHS. Face-to-face care will always be the mainstay and the most important thing that health and care organisations can provide. But to support face-to-face service we will use all digital channels available to us to deliver health and care information and activities where it is safe, effective, evidence-based and appropriate to do so.”
To succeed, we need to work smarter and keep things simple, he said. Technology has to “flex” with the patient, allowing them to manage their conditions and also conduct their normal day-to-day activities as part of a community.
“We must be wise. If we actually use technology to keep people in their own communities but actually only allow them to be prisoners behind their own front door we have failed everyone,” he said.
Technology must also support and help friends and family, Crooks said.
“Informal carers are the most important deliverers of health and care in Scotland. If the informal carers walked away today the NHS and I think most local authority social work departments would pack-in within a number of hours, not days, weeks or months.
“…We can use technology to de-stress some of the carer’s role. We can use it to support friends and family in a whole host of different ways.”
Technology can also connect people and help them to engage and actively participate in their own communities.
Crooks continues: “If we can do that we can allow them to communicate with the broader world. They can Skype their grandchildren in Australia while monitoring their long term condition – all made simple if we have intelligent design, easy to use technologies in the home.”
There are benefits beyond the individual, however. “Moving service users into the role of producers and deliverers of care services as opposed to simply recipients is not only empowering to an individual, but can promote capacity to allow us to cope for the next 10, 15, 20 years,” Crooks said. “Technology is a very powerful way of doing that if we get the design right.”
We have built strong foundations in Scotland and our strategies are “aligned and correct” in Scotland, he stated.
“Interestingly, we also have leadership buy-in across all political parties, leadership from government and also senior clinical leaders are coming round and our network of champions is increasing month on month,” he said.
There are still a considerable number of sceptics out there and we have to recognise that, he said. However, he added: “I think we have to welcome that challenge.”
Over 200 delegates registered to attend the summit to discuss the future of telehealth and telecare in Scotland. Later this afternoon the event will also hear a presentation from Stephen Johnson, deputy direction, Head of Long Term Conditions at the UK Department of Health about the headline findings from the Whole System Demonstrator Programme, while tomorrow’s morning session will be headlined by Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.