Telehealth failure a cautionary tale for U.S.

Getting docs engaged and on-board with telehealth may take more than education. It may take cold, hard cash. That's the object lesson this week from a story about one segment of England's burgeoning telehealth/remote patient monitoring program.

Not getting physician buy-in has forced one primary care trust--the local care coordinating agency in the UK--to have to pay physicians to try out telehealth technology, according to Britain's Management in Practice (MiP). It's particularly bad news, given that the country is in the middle of a massive expansion of its telehealth and remote patient monitoring programs. 

In a recent audit, a PCT in the Yorkshire region of England has found most of its Tunstall telehealth units (more than 1,600 out of 2,000) are sitting on the shelves, unused. The problem: Doctors were reluctant to put in the hours, unpaid, to learn and implement the technology, MiP reported. 

"After working with a number of ... practices to get up and running with telehealth, we identified the need to offer a small payment to cover the initial workload associated with identifying and referring patients," Kerry Wheeler, assistant strategy director for NHS North Yorkshire and York, told MiP.

Now, NHS is paying practices 200 pounds--or about $307 dollars each--to cover the initial costs, plus another 50 pounds ($76) per installation. Practices that use telehealth on patients for six months or longer can earn another $76 payment, as well. 

Whether the payments will result in the project gaining traction isn't clear. But what is clear is that the entire project was too ambitious from the start, British officials told EHealthInsider. Almost no business case was ever built for the PCT's purchase of the 2,000 original telehealth units, according to the project audit. And a lack of follow-up for getting telehealth units into the field meant the program that was supposed to save 3 million pounds (about $4 million) actually has only saved about 200,000 pounds ($300,000). 

The upshot for U.S. hospitals: If you're looking to scale up your telehealth programs, be sure you've invested first in aggressive physician education, careful business modeling, and have focused follow-up to ensure programs will be sustainable.

To learn more:
- read the Management in Practice story
- check out the PublicTechnology.net's coverage
- get more detail from EHealthInsider 

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