With the UK’s ageing population and ever more effective treatments for long-term health conditions placing immense amounts of pressure on public sector budgets, the urgency to deliver more-for-less has never been greater.

The patient of the future, especially people with chronic illnesses like diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, will expect the use of technologies that make it much easier and more convenient for them to receive the care and treatment they need.

Rethinking how the NHS interacts with patients and being able to redesign its services around the needs of patients is vital, and pioneering work is already under way in the West Midlands.

In Birmingham, the NHS and local authority have rolled out telecare and telehealth technologies through collaborative working with the private sector. This has helped bring the needs of patients and the capabilities of local, regional and global technology manufacturers together to realise the goal of the digitally-enabled citizen.

Telehealth in action: a collaborative success with Birmingham OwnHealth

The Birmingham OwnHealth initiative allows patients with long-term conditions in the NHS Birmingham East and North (BEN) region to receive telephone based care. This includes hard to reach patients within a relatively socially mixed part of the country, home to 440,000 people. 

Key to ensuring patients receive the right support is collaboration with NHS Direct. It provides the care managers for patients which means highly trained nurses, those who have received additional training in a number of long term conditions and motivational skills, are just a phone call away between 9am-8pm, five days-per-week.

They support patients with a range of long-term conditions including diabetes, coronary heart disease, COPD, such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, stroke or TIA (‘mini-stroke’), and high blood pressure.

Equally important in developing this service has been the involvement of the private sector. Pfizer Health Solutions has been crucial in helping NHS BEN to capitalise on the healthcare opportunities by approaching issues from a completely different perspective.

Dr Richard Mendelsohn, director of chronic disease systems at NHS BEN said: “After just 12 months, patients - or members as they are called - showed improvements in patient metrics. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels were better controlled, as were levels of HBA1C glucose amongst those with diabetes.

“Other positive outcomes include GPs finding better engagement with patients where previous attempts to build a rapport had failed, and high satisfaction ratings amongst service users. In relation to the use of assistive technology - the use of home monitoring – recent results this year found 63 per cent of patients thought that they have had fewer unplanned admissions to hospital and 67 per cent felt their general health was more stable since they started using the service.”

Telecare in action: safe and secure independent living for vulnerable people

Birmingham City Council adults and communities directorate is using new digital technologies to help vulnerable people, such as the elderly and dementia patients. Home automation systems that bring together monitoring such as flood, fire and smoke detection, as well as motion and fall detection, ensure patients can live independently in their own homes.

Adults and communities has connections through digital technologies with 1800 elderly and vulnerable adults. In addition to providing a monitoring and response mechanism that impacts on the health, care, security and safety of individuals, the telecare strategy is providing individuals, their families and carers with additional support and reassurance. There is a lot of potential too for the council to learn from best practice across the country.

The Birmingham adults and communities team see telecare as a win-win solution. The people it helps have greater personalisation and choice in their care programme, choosing to live safely at home if they wish thereby retaining their independence. Comprehensive monitoring technology coupled with telephone support is allowing the local authority and NHS to benefit through a reduction in costly ambulance call-outs and hospital admissions.

Plus, by helping vulnerable people to stay longer in their own homes, care home provision and the need for round-the-clock personal care is reduced, ensuring even more savings are made and allowing budgets to be redirected into other health and care services.

People are living longer, new drugs and treatments are becoming available and lifestyle issues such as obesity are impacting on more and more of us. In order to meet this demand for services and deliver high-quality healthcare for everyone, innovation is the key to finding better and more efficient ways of doing things. Health and care professionals in Birmingham are already reaping the rewards.