The impact of telehealth on use of hospital care and mortality

This report evaluates the impact of telehealth on hospital use and mortality from the Department of Health’s Whole System Demonstrator pilots – believed to be the largest ever trial of telehealth.

Co-author Adam Steventon outlines the findings of the Nuffield Trust’s analysis of the Whole System Demonstrator trial

In an era of financial challenge, telehealth – technology designed to help people with long-term conditions maintain their independence and avoid unnecessary hospitalisation – is often cited as vital to increasing the efficiency of health care delivery. But how robust is the evidence base?

The Department of Health’s Whole System Demonstrator trial – the largest of its kind conducted to date – analysed the effects of telehealth on over 3,000 patients across three areas in England: Cornwall, Kent and Newham.

The project strand led by the Nuffield Trust considered the impact of telehealth on patients’ hospital use and mortality in the three areas. In this research summary, Senior Research Analyst Adam Steventon and Director of Research Martin Bardsley highlight the main findings, whilst offering reasons for caution against being over-optimistic about what telehealth can deliver. They also provide some suggestions as to how future studies might best be designed.

To move forward appropriately there is a need to design interventions carefully, learning from this trial, and to monitor the longer-term impact.Adam Steventon, co-author and Nuffield Trust Senior Research Analyst

The impact of telehealth on use of hospital care and mortality: A summary of the first findings from the Whole System Demonstrator trial found indications of a positive impact on hospital admissions and patient mortality; these differences found were statistically significant, so were unlikely to have been caused by chance.

However, the study found less evidence that telehealth will reduce costs. For intervention patients, the overall costs of hospital care (including emergency admissions, elective admissions and outpatient attendances), were £188 per patient less than for those in the control group. However, this cost difference was not statistically significant.

This research summary is published alongside an article in the British Medical Journal relating the detailed findings. For further information about our work in this area, visit our dedicated project page.

Suggested citation

Steventon A and Bardsley M (2012) The impact of telehealth on use of hospital care and mortality. Research report. Nuffield Trust.