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Moray Telehealth

Andrea Taylor, Matthew Karau, Stefan Agamanolis (Distance Lab); Christine McClusky (Scottish Centre for Telehealth)

As of 2007, the county of Moray in Scotland had not made significant use of telehealth technologies as a complement to traditional national health services. Recognising the potential benefits of such technologies for improving quality of life and generating cost-savings, the Moray Community Health and Social Care Partnership asked Distance Lab to investigate and pilot solutions that could impact strongly in certain health priority areas for the Moray region.

A particular focus of the project was the respiratory condition known as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). COPD is a degenerative and debilitating long-term lung disease that makes it harder for people to breath. Other symptoms include wheezing, cough, excess mucus and phlegm, chest pain, chest infection, and difficulty in walking.

COPD is the 5th most common cause of overall mortality in the UK. An estimated 95,042 people in Scotland have COPD, over 1,000 of which reside in the Moray area. The direct cost of COPD to the NHS in Scotland was estimated at over £98.5 million in 2004/05.

Flare-ups (exacerbations) are times when COPD gets much worse. An exacerbation often results in emergency admission and always worsens the overall state of a person's COPD. People with COPD can avoid exacerbations by understanding their symptoms and avoiding the conditions that often lead to flare-ups.

There is evidence that health monitoring with telehealth systems enables people with COPD and clinicians to help prevent health episodes which could lead to emergency admission to hospital.

Distance Lab investigated the potential of a wide range of current and emerging products that might impact on the management of long-term chronic conditions, focusing in particular on COPD. Together with National Health Service contacts in Moray, we facilitated a pilot of one such emerging solution during the winter of 2007-08.

The basis of this solution, which is provided by the Met Office, is an automated phone call that warns COPD patients when cold weather is forecast for their area so they may take appropriate protective action. Interestingly, COPD-related hospital admissions peak several days after cold weather.

This service reduced COPD related hospital admissions by 21% across the areas of the UK that participated in the trial during the winter of 2007-08. The BBC reported these results in an article entitled "Weather alerts boost lung health".

As a result of its build-up of knowledge in this area, Distance Lab identified several gaps in the current telehealth technology market and has launched additional projects in this area, more details of which will be released in due course.