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Telehealth opens newer vistas for UK S/ITS

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CIOL Bureau
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LONDON, UK: Telehealth is now on the cusp of mainstream adoption and presents a long-term opportunity for a range of software and IT services suppliers, says a new report from Ovum, an advisory and consulting firm.

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Tola Sargeant, practice leader, Geographies & Industries practice, Ovum and author of the report, 'The UK Telehealth Mmarket: Beyond the Hype', says: "Widespread adoption of telehealth, while still significant, are now surmountable and that the adoption of telehealth technologies by the NHS is inevitable."

Telehealth has the potential to save NHS money and free-up hospital beds whilst improve the quality of care received by patients. It will enable remote monitoring of patients’ vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose levels etc.) in their own home.

Telehealth is particularly useful for monitoring patients with long-term or chronic conditions, such as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). By monitoring patients closely without the need for regular trips to see a GP or nurse, telehealth can reduce the need for expensive acute hospital admissions.

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The nascent telehealth market in the UK is serviced by a small number of specialist local providers, led by telecare provider Tunstall. But large systems integrators (SIs) and other IT services and telehealth providers are actively monitoring the UK telehealth market and planning their approach to it. A number of larger players have already been involved with pilots in the UK – notably IBM, BT and Philips – and many are actively involved with the Continua Alliance and in talks with potential telehealth partners.

Opportunities for devices and services in the UK telehealth industry are still at very early stage. But there have been some pockets of activity that have moved beyond pilots – for example, in Milton Keynes, Hull, Sheffield and Kent. Developments, such as Northern Ireland’s £46 million tender for the use of telehealth in chronic disease management suggest telehealth is now about to reach a tipping point in the UK.

While suppliers wait for the NHS market to gather pace, an increasing number of organisations will begin targeting consumers directly with telehealth services over the next few years. “Starting in 2009, we expect some IT services suppliers to team up with pharmacies or independent sector healthcare providers to offer further preventative telehealth services aimed directly at consumers” says Tola Sargeant.

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“If successful, consumer services could be a means of kick-starting the UK telehealth market ahead of NHS-led demand and creating the volumes needed to make it worthwhile for larger providers to enter the market”.

As the UK telehealth market evolved, a wide range of suppliers will enter the market, including UK telecare providers, international telehealth providers, global S/ITS suppliers and global hardware and networking vendors.



Any vendor hoping to build a strong position in UK telehealth in the longer term should already be developing a thought leadership position in the sector.

“While the UK telehealth market has the potential to be worth several hundred million pounds per annum, it will take time to mature. Suppliers should not plan on seeing a significant return on their investment for at least five years” explained Sargeant.

It would take larger and longer contracts, like Northern Ireland’s, to convince larger IT services players to enter the UK telehealth market with gusto. In England, regional procurements, or the opportunity to create a shared services platform on a national or regional basis, would attract suppliers. However, Ovum believed any such large-scale NHS procurement in England is at least three years away.

A consumer-orientated telehealth market is likely to be device-led or tied to personal health records. “We’re anticipating an increase in the use of personal health records such as Microsoft’s HealthVault and Google Health, both of which could be used as repositories for data collected from telehealth devices” Sargeant concluded.