Page last updated at 23:28 GMT, Friday, 12 September 2003 00:28 UK

NHS Stories: Telemedicine

Victor Power
Victor Power using the system
As part of a series of articles BBC News Online health reporter Jane Elliott looks behind the scenes of the NHS.

This week we focus on how telemedicine could allow patients more time in their own homes.

A television set in a cramped room off a corridor in a busy London hospital provides Victor Power with the key to his freedom.

Without the special television set, Victor would need to spend more of his time in hospital and less time relaxing in the familiar environments of his own home.

But using the telemedicine scheme allows Victor and another four patients with cystic fibrosis to spend more time at home and less at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London.

With just the flick of a switch, physiotherapist Olive Wilkinson can bring the hospital to the comfort of Victor's bedroom.

It is so nice being based at home
Victor Power

Once a week at a pre-arranged time, Olive sets up the complicated looking equipment her end.

She then phones Victor to make sure he is ready to receive her call and that his computer is switched on. She then calls him up, and they have a face-to-face consultation.

While Victor sits on his bed in his semi-detached home in Middlesex, Olive can check his breathing, heart rate and temperature and watch out for any early signs that his body is rejecting his double lung transplant.

"This allows us to be there for him," Olive said.

"I contact him once a week at a time that is convenient for him.

"This is far better than ringing him up, because if there is a problem with his medication you can get the doctors to come down and talk to him and if you think that one of your patients is not looking too hot then you can get one of the home care nurses to pop in and see them."

Once Olive has made contact, she asks Victor to show her his results.

She asks him to hold up the testing machine to the screen to check the figures herself - "just to make sure the patients tell me the right details".

Plans

Victor is now quite well and looking forward to some extensive globe trotting - patients have to remain in the UK for the first six months after a transplant in case of rejection. He is also planning to start a new job.

But it was a different story just a few months ago.

He was desperately in need of a transplant, and he spent much of his time in hospital.

But taking part in the telemedicine trial, which he also used in the months before his transplant, allowed him more flexibility.

"I was really bad waiting for my transplant. I was going down hill fast and I kept getting more infections and I was in and out of hospital," he said.

"I would be in for a few weeks and then out for a few weeks.

"It is so nice being based at home, now I can contact the hospital whenever I want to.

"There is always someone on hand.

"Before taking part in this I did not know what telemedicine was. I thought it was a video camera in the home, but when it came it was very easy to operate and so easy to use from home.

"Now I just need to go to the hospital once every three weeks, whereas before I would have needed to go once a fortnight.

Benefits

Olive explained that the system is great in allowing patients autonomy, as well as having important health benefits.

Making regular journeys to hospital, often over long distances, can leave patients tired - particularly those still waiting for transplants.

While they are travelling, patients miss out on treatments they usually receive at home, such as physiotherapy, as well as rest and recuperation.

Olive said the telemedicine system, which is currently being trialled at the Royal Brompton Hospital, helps cut down the amount of travelling a patient has to do.

"Travelling just messes up their routine... and of course their worry is that if they have to come in to hospital that there is always the chance that they will have to stay.

"This way they are in their home environment."




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