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
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
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.