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Telehealth ‘not cost effective’, says study

Telehealth, a key plank of the government’s innovation strategy is not cost effective, according to the latest official evaluation, in a government-backed study.

The latest assessment of the Department of Health-funded “whole systems demonstrator” programme compared the cost effectiveness of patients using telehealth against a control group.     

The paper, submitted to the British Medical Journal on March 22 by London School of Economics researchers, said: “Telehealth does not seem to be a cost effective addition to standard support and treatment.”

The addition of telehealth cost £92,000 per quality adjusted life year – a measure of the cost effectiveness of the improvement in life expectancy and quality of life which it delivered. That level is more than three times higher than the threshold for cost effectiveness normally required by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to approve a drug or technology of £30,000 per QUALY.

The researchers compared the outcomes of 965 patients, 534 whom were monitored with telehealth equipment and 431 who received “usual care”.

It said: “The incremental cost per quality adjusted life year of telehealth when added to usual care was £92,000. With this amount, the probability of cost effectiveness was low.”

The assessment presents a grimmer picture than a previous evaluation by the same academics publish last March which concluded the cost per quality adjusted life year, including direct costs, for use of telehealth was in the region of £80,000.

The conclusions strike a fresh blow to ministers’ assertion that telehealth could save the NHS could up to £1.2bn over five years and its ambition to have three million patients using the technology by 2017.  

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt launched seven telehealth “pathfinder” projects last year he said would be providing 100,000 people with telehealth services this year.

Mr Hunt said: “Technology can help people manage their condition at home, free up a lot of time and save the NHS money.

“In a world where technology increasingly helps us manage our social and professional lives, it seems logical that it should also help people manage their health.”


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