Improving digital networks, access and interoperability are required to maximise telehealth services, an international expert says.

United Kingdom-based Dr Malcolm Fisk, an expert advisor to World Health Organization Digital Health Technical Committee, said the UK has now adopted telehealth in response to COVID-19 after two decades of stagnation for the health application.

“Telecare services had evolved a bit in the last 20 years to embrace vital signs monitoring but it is still pretty clunky and, in large parts of the UK, is still working on an analogue rather than digital basis,” Dr Fisk told AAA.

Dr Malcolm Fisk

As a result of being forced to use telehealth, services now realise it is essential, Dr Fisk said.

“All the arguments that had been based on studies that had found that telehealth no better than conventional methods of service delivery fell, with a clatter, onto the floor – in the realisation that such services, might be preferred, less costly and more easily accessed by patients, people, us.”

Having better digital networks that improve reach and reduce the digital divide and having full interoperability for a range of technologies will help bring telehealth to the forefront permanently, Dr Fisk said.

“I have argued for interoperability in telecare since the 1970s but it was resisted by the largest players. As a consequence we had, and still often have, vendor lock-in,” he said.

“Interoperability should, as soon as possible, become mandatory – for the UK and Australia.”

Dr Fisk spoke at the Aged Care Industry Information Technology Council’s national innovation and technology forum on June 3 where he provided an insight into the UK’s response and discuss new methods adopted by telehealth and general practitioner services.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, services had what was considered basic telehealth systems, he said.

“At the beginning of the crisis, the services did the obvious and only thing they could. They shifted things around and made do with what they had,” said Dr Fisk, senior lecturer in information systems at De Montfort University in the UK.

“The important thing is that the technologies were in place within many or most services to enable them to scale up when the need arose,” he said.

He called for support for telehealth from all levels of government in Australia and the UK.

This story first ran in Australian Ageing Agenda.

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