By 2050, the majority of the world will likely live in high- or hyper-ageing societies (20-30%+ over 60). However, while we might be living longer, our age-related health is not predicted to improve as significantly. While progress is underway through initiatives like Age Friendly Ireland to embed age-friendly thinking into both local and national policy processes, this article showcases one particular innovative and award-winning project from Wexford County Council on telehealth.
Telehealth refers to the use of electronic and telecommunication technologies to support healthcare at a distance from a patient. In County Wexford, a telehealth project was undertaken by a multi-agency stakeholder group, made up of the Wexford County Council-Age Friendly Programme, including the Wexford Older Peoples Council, Age Friendly Ireland, HSE, Wexford General Hospital, including Consultant Geriatrician and Clinical Nurse Specialists, and Tunstall Emergency Response.
This project set out to provide a 12-week telehealth intervention to 50 patients with chronic illnesses, including Chronic Heart Disease, COPD & Diabetes. The project was independently evaluated and monitored by the Waterford Institute of Technology, and their research report, including their findings and recommendations, was launched by Minister Mary Butler and is available to download on Age Friendly Ireland.
For more on how local government in Ireland is adapting Age Friendly programmes, this briefing from Dr Emer Coveney at Age Friendly Ireland explores how to reconnect older people through the Age Friendly Ireland programme structures.
Telehealth can be used to support older adults in self-managing their health conditions within their own homes. Patients were provided with specific equipment depending on the health condition being monitored. The patients with COPD were asked to use a blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter and thermometer. Those with CHF used the blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter and scales, while the patients with diabetes recorded their blood pressure, weight and, if they wished, manually input their blood glucose readings. The patients input their readings daily into a tablet, and this information was transferred to clinicians at Wexford General Hospital, with an alarm system in place if the readings were outside of limits set by the medical team.
Participants engaged very well with the technology, and the majority of participants perceived that it helped them manage their condition by giving them reassurance that there was clinical oversight and confidence in their ability to manage. Plus, it gave them the confidence to exercise more and identify when they needed to take health-related actions. One of the participants said:
“I think because when I know my oxygen levels were good, it gave me more confidence to go through the day’ whilst another participant said ‘I think the change for users is that you can get a check from home without having to constantly go back and forth to the hospital.”
This digital technology helps older people to manage long-term chronic medical conditions in community and household settings. The assistive technology also supports clinicians to manage their patients at a distance and without the need for the older person to visit them in person.
There are currently a number of challenges for healthcare providers, including:
- Rising costs of care for older patients discharged from hospital,
- The dispersed population of older people spread geographically and across homes, assisted care facilities and residential care.
- Increases risk of falls, A&E presentations, in-patient admissions and further.
- Deterioration of health.
From a business perspective, there are a number of benefits to supporting chronic disease via telehealth:
- Patient empowerment and self-care
- Reduction in hospital re-admissions
- Prevents avoidable hospital admissions
- Reduces the total cost of patient care.
As Ireland’s population ages rapidly, healthcare providers need to look at alternative solutions for delivering healthcare, and as such, this Wexford telehealth project is very timely.
Thank you to Wexford County Council for taking the time to detail the background of the Telehealth Project.
If you are interested in learning from the award-winning Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards 2022, click here!