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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 March 2008, 02:25 GMT
'Monitoring my heart through the TV'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Huw Jones
Huw monitors himself daily
For several months Huw Jones has been helping to monitor his own heart condition from the comfort of his living room.

As soon as Huw, a 43-year old, from East Yorkshire, gets up he weighs himself, monitors his blood pressure and heart rate and then sits back and switches on his TV.

Through a set-top device attached to the telly Huw answers a series of questions about his health, inputs the readings he has just taken and details any concerns.

The data is then sent to his health carers who monitor it and alert Huw if they are worried about anything.

Tests revealed problems

Huw was diagnosed with heart problems since last May, when tests revealed his heart was only working to 36% of capacity.

He is delighted with the new system, which has meant him spending less time in hospital.

"This way I get tests every day, not just those at the hospital and I can still get on with daily life," he said.

"This means they should spot problems early and prevent my condition becoming acute."

This means they should spot problems early and prevent my condition becoming acute
Huw Jones

Statistics show that more people than ever before suffer from heart conditions in the UK - almost one in eight have been diagnosed with heart or circulation disorders.

Half of these cases will progress to heart failure: a condition that causes breathlessness and ankle swelling and is often fatal unless the patient gets expert treatment.

Heart failure is also one of the most common medical reasons for hospital admission and it takes up more than one million NHS bed-days each year.

And more than one third of patients are re-admitted within four months of being discharged.

Monitoring from home

The telemonitoring scheme is the brainchild of Professor of Cardiology John Cleland, of the University of Hull, who hopes to expand the number of patients with serious heart problems who can take advantage.

He has been researching the benefits of heart telemonitoring for about six or seven years.

"When we put all the data on telemonitoring together it showed there is a 40% reduction in mortality," he said.

"This is actually one of the biggest interventions in terms of saving lives in serious heart disease that we have seen.

"Not everybody knows about this, but those who do tend to agree it has a very large impact.

Instead of them being rushed into hospital with a blue-light they can come in with a toothbrush under their own steam and get sorted out before they develop into a crisis
Professor John Cleland
University of Hull

"It helps patients to get onto the correct treatment and take the right treatments in the right doses.

"It also means that when they are running into trouble they can be identified early and the problem can be managed at home, or the patient can be whipped into hospital.

"But instead of them being rushed into hospital with a blue light they can come in with a toothbrush under their own steam and get sorted out before they develop into a crisis.

"It is prevention rather than crisis management."

Professor Cleland said a huge increase in the number of people suffering from heart problems was threatening to overwhelm NHS resources.

He said not only did telemonitoring make sure patients were well cared for, it also encouraged them to be proactive about keeping a close eye on their condition.

Each patient who takes part in the scheme is equipped with a "home monitoring package", including questionnaires, weighing scales, a blood pressure machine and heart rate monitor.

"Home monitoring helps reduce patients' anxiety about their condition," he said.

"It enables patients to look after themselves and to become active partners in their own healthcare, it also means that health professionals can focus on those patients who need extra help and do it quickly when it is needed.

"This has got to be good news for patients and doctors alike."

If the scheme is a success in Hull there are hopes to roll it out across the UK.

June Davison, a British Heart Foundation nurse, said that she although she was not aware of the specific scheme, she was aware of the benefits of telemonitoring.

But she stressed it should not be a replacement for personal care.

"It must not replace detailed examinations or make up for the personal touch."

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