UK dials up "virtual doctors" in big telehealth push

Thu Dec 6, 2012 7:36am EST
 

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - Shirley Silvers thinks the "virtual doctor" who monitors her chronic lung condition via mobile phone is wonderful.

"It is like having my doctor sitting on my sofa," said the 64-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent in central England, explaining how her temperature, oxygen levels and sputum color - a barometer for infection - are now checked daily from home.

She sends her readings by text message and gets a reply within minutes, removing the need for regular trips to the doctor.

British health minister Jeremy Hunt is equally enthusiastic.

He announced plans in November to roll out telehealth to 100,000 people with long-term conditions in 2013 and have 3 million on the system by 2017.

It will make Britain second only to the United States as an adopter of technology to monitor patients at home, luring technology and telecoms firms looking for somewhere to test ideas in a global market that may soon be worth tens of billions of dollars.

Remote monitoring has the potential to save money by keeping people like Silvers - who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - healthy and out of hospital.

Indeed, the department of health claims it could save up to 1.2 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) over five years.   Continued...