DIGITAL HEALTHCARE: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE

NEW BOOK REVIEW

book

CHAMBERS, SCHMID AND BIRCH-JONES, OTMOOR PUBLISHING 2016

 

The Foreword aptly describes this volume as an ‘immensely practical book cum workbook’. It fulfils this role well – in a context of rapid technological change where the imperatives that drive moves towards more integrated service frameworks in the UK are clearly recognised.

Half the book comprises chapters on topics from telecare and telehealth to apps and social media. The other chapters address such matters as the challenges of overcoming barriers to change, improving uptake and undertaking service evaluations. Overall, therefore, as well as providing a practical guide (for professionals or practitioners) the book offers an ‘eye-opener’ on current developments for a wider readership. But be warned that, as perhaps befits a book that arrives at a time of rapid change, there remain some questions that could have justified a wider airing – the most notable of which relates to the way in which health and personal data can and will be safeguarded in our new world of ‘digital healthcare’.

Arguably the first and clearest ‘positive’ is the book’s exposition of the merits of different telehealth initiatives. Most notably these relate to apps and the laudable contribution that ‘Flo’ is making within an increasing number of UK telehealth and telecare services. Flo is the telehealth text messaging service that gives support to and helps people to take a fuller role in the management of their long-term conditions. There are several pointers in the book to the benefits of Flo in terms of individual well-being and cost savings to the NHS. The implied message is that, in the context of change for our health service frameworks, we overlook the potential of such technologies at our peril!

A second positive relates to the adoption, by the book, of a people (or patient)-driven, rather than technology-driven, perspective. This recognises the imperative for us all, regardless of our age, around the responsibility we must take to be better, and more informed, partners in our health. It is pleasing to note, in this context, the nod to the Telehealth Quality Group’s ‘International Code of Practice for Telehealth Services’ as a reference point and a benchmark for the telehealth services with which the book is concerned.

A further positive is the book’s inclusion of or pointers to and inclusion of a substantial range of resources (practice examples, case studies and the ‘dos and don’ts’ of digital health). The message is that there is ample information ‘out there’ about the benefits of different kinds of telehealth (and telecare related) interventions and that we must re-double our efforts to overcome the barriers that thwart or constrain service changes and developments.

It is of some disappointment (but not detracting from the positives noted above) that the book doesn’t take a clear position on the overlapping definitions around telehealth, eHealth, telecare and digital health. Rather, it chooses to use the term TECS (Technology Enabled Care Services) as a ‘catch-all’ – that maybe should have been in the title.

Overall, therefore, a practical and worthwhile book that is very relevant to the world of TECS in England, offers lessons for a wider readership, and will help in setting the direction of telehealth and related services.

Dr Malcolm J Fisk – August 2016