NHS future could see you Facebook your doctor

ParkinsonNet is a website which links sufferers of the disease in the Netherlands with specialist doctors and nurses and is being hailed as a trailblazer for the era of telehealth

Imagine if your doctor was as easy to contact as your Facebook friends - and you could Skype them whenever you liked to talk about your health concerns.

For anyone waiting to see their GP in today's cash-strapped NHS, and with doctors already working at full tilt to provide the universal healthcare we all depend upon, it seems like the realm of science fiction.

But telehealth, bringing care into the patient's home, is now one of the buzzwords of the modern NHS. In a population where more and more people, often the elderly, have long-term health problems such as heart disease, obesity, breathing problems or diabetes, the greater part of a doctor's work can be done in the home, advocates of telehealth say.

In the internet age, the best way to do that, is to have a doctor on a computer, signed in to a network of patients in the same way we are connected to our Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

In the British Medical Journal today, researchers from the Netherlands have reported on the success of a scheme which is being hailed as a trailblazer for the era of telehealth.

ParkinsonNet is a dedicated website which links Dutch Parkinson's disease sufferers with doctors and nurses who specialise in their disease. It acts, in effect, like Facebook for Parkinson's patients. The professionals communicate and collaborate on the website, where patients can also find information about treatment, about the professionals themselves and what they do and can also, if they want, request an at-home consultation via video link in their homes.

Since it was introduced in 2004, ParkinsonNet has expanded into 66 regional networks and links nearly 3,000 professionals from 15 different disciplines to Parkinson's patients all over the Netherlands.

Evidence presented by the researchers, from the Radboud University Medical Centre, suggests that the website “empowers patients, improves the quality of care, shifts care away from institutions and into the community and lowers healthcare costs.”

Patients also appreciated being linked to genuine experts on their condition, rather than having to visit generalists and endure referrals and lengthy waits to see a specialist. The researchers concluded that the model could be used just as successfully by patients with other long-term conditions like diabetes and breathing problems. 

But it's the cost benefits which may be of most interest to NHS bosses. The health service in England is under intense financial pressure and facing a £30bn funding gap by 2030 and its managers. The NHS in Scotland and Wales are also eager to save money.

A patient with a long-term problem coming to a hospital for something routine is a waste of time for them and a waste of money for the hospital - so the more that can be done in the home, the better, experts say.

The Dutch researchers estimated that ParkinsonNet has saved up to 20m euros: a small amount in the context of the NHS' budget, which exceeds £100bn. However, Parkinson's is just one of the less common long-term conditions. If the millions of patients who suffered from diabetes, had a heart condition, or breathing problem could be cared for in the same way the savings could be, in theory, enormous.

Dr Martin McShane, NHS England director for long-term conditions told The Independent that the NHS in England was developing similar models of care for more conditions and called ParkinsonNet “a very clear signal of the potential” of telehealth. England already has an online psychological therapy service operating in some parts of the country.

“I think this is a really exciting time,” he said. “The problem is we're almost being out-paced by mobile technology. There are also questions about how we ensure the right governance of these schemes - clear quality standards need to be maintained… But do we want to move to a National Health Service rather than a national hospital service? The answer is yes.”

In Scotland, a dedicated Centre for Telehealth and Telecare has been set up, with “patient-centred, at home care” a key part of the country's plans to “transform” the NHS by 2020. The country is beginning to move beyond “pilots” to “large scale” uses of remote consultations with doctors and therapists, he said.

“It's not about replacing face to face care with technology,” said Professor George Crooks, medical director of NHS 24, who has overall responsibility for the project.  “Technology can make face-to-face care more accessible: such as accessing specialist opinion remotely from remote rural or island communities.

”We will use it but only where it is safe, effective and, most importantly, appropriate to do so…but people use technology to run their day-to-day life - and they now expect to be able to use their tablet, smartphone or computer as a way to access their health and care services.“

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
music

News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

    £25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    English Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

    Primary General Cover Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Southampton: We are looking for Primary School ...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album