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14 May 2015
Patients dying amid reluctance to embrace technology, warns lead clinician

Patients dying amid reluctance to embrace technology, warns lead clinician

Failure to make better use of technology in the delivery of care across Scotland is costing lives, a leading clinician has claimed.

Professor James Ferguson, lead clinician at the Scottish Centre for Telehealth and Telecare, said politicians are now “putting their money where their mouth is” amid broad support for the use of telehealth and telecare.

However, Ferguson, who also works as a consultant surgeon in emergency medicine within NHS Grampian, said the “problem is not that it doesn’t work, the problem is that people just won’t use it”, a reference to reluctance on the part of health service staff.

“When we overload our hospitals – and you just have to watch the news every day to find out our hospitals are overloaded - you increase mortality,” he said.

“So by not adopting new ways of delivering care we are ensuring that large numbers of our population are dying,”

Ferguson acknowledged there is still some work to do on the IT front but suggested that “artificial barriers” put up by clinicians were the main roadblock.

“It is perfectly obvious that we need telehealth and telecare but what do we do, we always go back to what we’ve done before… and we can’t afford to deliver care like this anymore,” he said.

“It’s killing patients, at the worst, and, at best, it’s costing us a lot of money for no added benefit. I have spent my entire career doing telehealth, gathering evidence to say this is a good idea.

“Where’s the evidence that taking a 92-year-old patient into a hospital and plonking them in front of a doctor actually makes a difference?

“I need them to start showing me the evidence that the money they are spending and the negative outcomes they are having is actually evidence-based because I’ve found that for so long.”

Ferguson made his comments at a conference on telehealth and telecare hosted by Holyrood magazine.

The Scottish Government has pledged £30million for telehealth over the next three years to allow patients to better manage their health, care and wellbeing at home while at the same time reducing emergency admissions to hospital.

The intention is that more patients will use technology such as tablet computers, smartphones and other digital devices to monitor conditions such as diabetes, heart problems and lung problems in their own homes.

Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish GP Committee, said: “Telehealth and telemedicine have the potential to improve patient care and there are parts of the country where it already operates successfully. However, not only does it need financial investment to work effectively, but also it involves professional time, and currently this is in short supply.

“There are also issues about the ability of the current IT infrastructure and broadband capacity in Scotland to provide an adequate basis for increased use of telehealth methods.

“There are plans to address broadband coverage in Scotland, and this will go some way to improving the situation, but there are still challenges that must be overcome.”

Dr Miles Mack, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in Scotland, said: “RCGP Scotland is committed to locality provided general practice and our patients, and doctors, value the long-term relationships intrinsic in that.

“Technology, very obviously, has an important part to play in connecting patients to professionals and in connecting professionals to other professionals. The highest need for its influence will be in rural areas where, unfortunately, the infrastructure available means it is hardest to supply.

“At the present time, RCGP Scotland is committed to improving the interface, technological and otherwise, between different parts of the NHS, such as between general practice and hospitals. Investment in technology will be crucial if this is to work.”

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