As television programmes go, we are faced with a wealth of choices these days. It's almost information overload! One of the few, really informative programmes which I like watching though is Embarrassing Bodies on Channel 4. Perhaps 'informative' is not quite the right word to use as maybe it suggests I can relate my own body to many of the conditions featured on the show ...which isn't the case (thankfully). But it's very interesting and, to a certain extent, gives us a glimpse of how clinical diagnosis could be done in some cases - via video/audio link.
Certainly patients across the country are calling for such methods to be widely adopted - according to a recent survey conducted by digital service NHS local. In fact it's interesting to read that 52 per cent of those surveyed would use video calling if they could - especially if it helped avoid difficulties with booking appointments. This is especially relevant for housebound patients or those living in rural areas. Only 14 per cent of those surveyed said they didn’t think there were any benefits in using video calling.
The research coincides with a growing number of private health and medical practitioners using new technology, including Skype and text-messaging, to advise and diagnose. These include clinics, some GPs, and Lloyds Pharmacy.
Interestingly, at the recent DocCom seminar in London, many of the healthcare professionals in attendance were of a similar opinion to those patients who took the survey. You can read our review of the DocCom seminar here and find out more about DocCom itself here. It was very clear that many of the doctors, surgeons and healthcare staff at the DocCom meeting were held back from accessing programmes such as Skype (and other social media) by their IT systems. Many reported that the various NHS IT networks were so restrictive even getting on Facebook was impossible in some NHS Trusts.
Join the conversation
Dr Richard Pope, a clinician from the north of England has started a discussion on the topic of 'telehealth' in the DocCom network. He is asking 'Do you use telehealth/teleconsultation?' and for you opinion and experiences on the matter. To join the conversation then you can here then join Microsoft's Healthcare Innovation through Technology (HIT) network. There are already some great examples from healthcare professionals featured in the discussion.
Skype is pretty straight forward as far a description of what it is/does. Basically it's free video calling software... yep, free. Plus you can use it on your phone/laptop/slate device. All you need is a webcam and you're ready to use Skype. To find out more about Skype look here.
So to summarise, the blue touch paper has already been lit by a number of healthcare organisations and individuals in the UK. The doctors want it, the patients want it but what does seem to be partially standing in the way is the IT systems currently in place around the NHS and perhaps a negative opinion of social media in some NHS senior leadership.
I'm all for the move toward 'telehealth'. I used a similar service (Medicalium) and it proved really useful for me - particularly as someone who has difficulty getting to my GP. I didn't need to install Skype or any other software - everything worked directly on their website.
Of course it makes sense. In reality the use of telehealth was tried and tested well over 10 years ago. There are clinicians who do support it but just like using smart phones and everything else digital - some are slow to adopt. In time this will be like all use of the internet. Meanwhile, while pressures increase we have to encourage adoption sooner rather than later and get comfortable with it.