U.K. telehealth model, smartphone prescribing unlikely to take hold in U.S.

An initiative in the U.K. called Digital First aims to use technology, where appropriate, rather than unnecessary face-to-face encounters. The Department of Health explains appropriate mHealth use could be discussing normal test results by phone, email or Skype.

Patients still will be able to meet with their doctors when they want to, but technology is expected to provide more flexibility and convenience for patients, including cutting down on unnecessary travel to appointments. In addition, the Department of Health says that a 1 percent reduction in face-to-face contact could save up to £200 million (roughly $321 million).

That's not a program likely to be implemented in the United States, says David Lee Scher, M.D,. owner and director of DLS Healthcare Consulting, in a mHIMSS article. He points to the varying telehealth programs in more than 40 states because of barriers, including cross-state professional licensing and reimbursement issues.

He says the U.S. initiatives, though, as well as the UK's should come with robust data to study telemedicine's efforts to clinical outcomes and patient care. Remote heart monitoring, for instance, has improved patient adherence and outcomes in both countries, he writes.

The UK encourages providers to prescribe smartphone apps, a fairly new concept in the United States. Overall, the paths to mHealth are different between the two countries, but interesting to watch as they develop, Scher says.

Indeed, the far larger United States provides a greater challenge of providing healthcare in remote areas. An April 2012 study conducted by The Boston Consulting Group and Telenor Group looking at the socioeconomic impact of mHealth initiatives in 12 countries concluded that costs in elderly care can be reduced by 25 percent.

And while U.S. patients still want face time with their physicians when warranted, they're growing more comfortable with virtual visits in certain situations, such as a specialist consult.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, for one, continues to expand its remote mental health services. Linda S. Godleski, director of the VA's national telemental health center and a psychiatrist at Yale University, told the American Psychiatric Association in May that patients tend to choose the remote sessions over face-to-face sessions, which may involve travel and scheduling difficulties.

To learn more:
- read about Digital First
- here's the mHIMSS article