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What is Telemedicine and how can it benefit?

Medicine and healthcare are continually evolving and innovating. In a world where cataract surgery is routinely completed within 20 minutes with most patients out of hospital the same day, it seems almost unbelievable that back in 1948 patients undergoing cataract surgery had to spend a week totally immobile.

Similarly in a world where advancements in prevention, early detection and treatment result in more than three-quarters of women diagnosed with breast cancer surviving beyond 5 years, it’s sobering to think this survival figure was nearer fifty percent in the 1970s1. The above two examples are clear testament to how the safe adoption of technological advances can profoundly influence not only how we access and deliver healthcare but ultimately clinical outcomes.

Few would deny that advances in technology and more recently digital technology have made accessing products, services and information easier, quicker and more effective for consumers and businesses around the world. Indeed in the UK alone over 90% of adults own a mobile phone2 and over 80% of British households now have internet access3.

Healthcare is no exception and the field of telemedicine is perhaps one of the best examples of how advances in tele and digital communications have benefited and in some cases saved literally millions of lives worldwide4. In its early manifestations telemedicine was quite literally an example of necessity being the mother of invention, with the solution adopted in under developed or developing countries as a means by which doctors could assess patients in hard to reach areas.

However, recent advances in both mobile and video technology have seen it adopted as a more convenient alternative to visiting a GP, as well as a means of monitoring and assisting patients with ongoing medical conditions. Indeed according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the majority of telemedicine services, most of which focus on diagnosis and clinical management, are now routinely offered in developed countries such as the UK, Scandinavia, and North America.

THE BENEFITS OF TELEMEDICINE

Of course as with all healthcare advances the real test of effectiveness is in terms of the lives telemedicine either improves or saves. Telemedicine has been successfully used by the NHS for a number of years and has shown good results both in terms of customer satisfaction and case management. A randomised control trial on 6,100 patients in the UK with COPD, heart failure or diabetes was performed in 2008. Of the 6,100 patients, 3,100 patients had access to telemedicine services. After a year of observation the results for those using telemedicine services showed a:

  1. 45% reduction in mortality rates
  2. 20% reduction in emergency admissions
  3. 14% reduction in elective admissions
  4. 14% reduction in bed days5

Prompt diagnosis and quick access to the very latest in treatments and care are one of the many reasons why clients purchase health insurance either for themselves or for their employees.

Yet in a world where accessing a NHS GP is increasingly, difficult, time consuming and inconvenient for many, not only does it appear lacking for health insurers not to fund alternatives to NHS GP services, more to the point its counter intuitive for health insurers to still insist on a NHS GP referral as the starting point of every claim.

INTRODUCING VITALITY GP

Recognising the clear paradox this current situation presents, VitalityHealth is the first UK health insurer to offer an alternative GP service to all its customers. Launching in 2015 and embracing the very latest advances in telemedicine, VitalityHealth’s unique Vitality GP offers all its members 24/7 access to a GP Helpline at a time and place which suits them. The service forms part of the core health insurance cover and includes: a benefit for prescriptions and minor tests ordered by the Vitality GP. Where appropriate the Vitality GP can also immediately authorise ongoing consultations and treatment with consultants, physiotherapists, and CBT therapists therefore improving the employee experience and potentially reducing downstream costs for both us and your clients.

VITALITY GP: 8 KEY BENEFITS

For individuals and employees:

  1. Peace of mind – access to a 24/7 GP helpline
  2. Convenience: ability to book video consultations with a GP at a time and place which suits them
  3. Cover for minor diagnostics and private prescriptions prescribed as a result of a video consultation with the Vitality GP
  4. Coordinated Care: a single point of referral and navigation for treatment ensuring the best member experience and most appropriate clinical pathway
  5. Prescribe Wellness: a unique ability to combine clinical pathways with wellness interventions to achieve the best health outcomes

For employers:

  1. Reduce: employee time off work due to time needed to see GP, and minor illness
  2. Reward: employees with a truly unique, relevant and highly valued new benefit
  3. Remind: employees of your commitment to helping them manage and improve their health and wellbeing

Sources:

  1. Cancer Research
  2. Ofcom 2014
  3. Office of National Statistics 2014
  4. World Health Organisation 2010
  5. Nuffield Trust
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