Telecare – The Next Generation Beams In

Chris Williams CEO at mediagrids, the pioneer of real-time broadband multimedia solutions for the healthcare industry has told Comms Business Magazine what he believes is new in telecare

“Every now and then, an innovative new company explodes into a mature, stable market and redefines the technology landscape, sending the previously comfortable incumbents into a spin. The unexpected contest from these disruptive technology vendors is so powerful that established business models start to crack, as the larger players struggle to compete with the flexibility and fresh thinking of the smaller pioneers.

I believe that the telecare industry is currently experiencing just such a revolution. Until now, it has been pretty much dominated by a couple of large players with a well established proposition – basic ‘peace of mind’ devices that cost the end client around £3 per week. This familiar and time-served ‘solution’ comprises a panic alarm – usually on a pendant, key fob or pull cord – that once activated triggers a call centre to telephone a pre-agreed key holder, who is in turn responsible for going to check on the ‘client’.

But, the modern social and economic climate is forcing dramatic change. Literally dozens of issues, such as the ageing population spiralling costs in the NHS, quality of care, social inclusion, the availability of beds and facilities and the significantly increasing importance of independent living for the elderly and the vulnerable has advanced the telecare industry into a new era. Two thirds of all beds in the NHS for example, are occupied by old people – yet 90% of older people really want to live at home. The good news is that half of these people could return home much sooner with the appropriate telecare support in place.

For example, new telemedicine hubs are already in use in Holland that feature Broadcare, our own real-time, broadband-based video conferencing system. The initiative advances the telecare industry beyond the use of simple panic buttons linked to voice-only calls centres, to include intelligent but discreet monitoring of clients in their home with round the clock preventative care. These home health hubs, when used with a camera and biometric devices – blood pressure and heart monitors for example – convert a standard television set or computer into a high quality videoconferencing and biometric workstation. We expect this next generation technology to dominate the telecare industry within a couple of years.

With privacy-enabled access, friends, family and carers can make visual contact with their loved-ones from any broadband internet browser, more regularly and effectively – and at a comparable price point to the ‘peace of mind’ systems. They also integrate seamlessly with other care systems, and may be used with any of the familiar monitoring equipment and medical devices. The advantages to the NHS and care agencies of employing such systems are potentially huge. The cost of a bed in Accident & Emergency is around £1500 per night, and a place in a care home is around £400 per week. There are 500,000 care home residents in the UK, 35% of which could be supported at home or in extra care with advanced telecare.

Using this next generation of telecare systems, call centres can also become more proactive by scheduling regular calls into clients and with the advantage of live, visual contact are better placed to call 999 immediately if required. Again, 40% of all accidents involving older people are falls – usually in the home – which, in some cases can go undetected for days. Even more proactive than inbound teleconferencing, is the potential for preventative care using value-added, complementary products and services such as security, integrated information management and data analysis.

We should also remind ourselves that this generation of telecare is applicable way beyond just the elderly. It is relevant to anyone in ‘vulnerable’ circumstances such as community care for psychiatric patients, or sufferers of diabetes, dementia or high blood pressure to name just two examples. TVs at the bedside are a powerful medium for children in long-term hospital care, as they can be used to video conference home to friends and family. This is drastically less expensive than installing a video conferencing system, and research shows that recovery rates can double. This is good for the patient’s wellbeing and standard of care and also has a positive impact on bed occupancy that directly affects the hospital’s bottom line.”

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