BT’s eHealth plans for Australia
The UK’s incumbent telco BT, one of the main telecom providers globally, is planning to roll out teleheath services in Australia through a multimillion-dollar deal with 20 key private and public sector players.
The initiative would be similar to the UK’s ‘3millionlives’ project, to which BT is one of the main contributors. The project, sponsored by the Department of Health (DoH), aims to utilise telehealth and telecare services in assisting three million people with long term health conditions or social care needs by 2017. During 2013 seven NHS and local authority organisations are expected to commission industry players to serve at least 100,000 patients. By helping people in their homes the initiative will relieve stress and lower cost on the burdened health service.
In anticipating BT’s plans in Australia, this is an overview of the situation in Britain.
E-Health initiatives in Britain
The UK has long been at the forefront of eHealth initiatives in Europe, with a number of projects implemented on a regional level within both the public (National Health Service – NHS) and private sectors.
Although many eHealth applications could be operated on existing infrastructure, a fibre-based national broadband network would allow for eHealth technologies and initiatives to operate more effectively, thus saving cost and effort for both patients and practitioners.
The government is in dire need of successful initiatives to help reduce the spiralling cost of national health provision. To compound its difficulties, the NHS has endured years of faulty and costly software issues resulting from the flawed NHS National Programme for Information Technology (NPIT): the DoH in mid-2011 admitted that the £2.7 billion that had been spent so far on a centralised records management system provided no clear benefits. The current coalition government has shelved a number of IT projects since taking office, saving about £450 million thus far.
The NPIT is working on developing greater efficiencies and support mechanisms for planned and existing eHealth projects, though a single national system will need much more investment.
In 2005, the government committed to develop the research capability of the NHS’s IT systems to support work on health and the effectiveness of health interventions. The UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) was tasked with coordinating the research and development from a range of stakeholders, in cooperation with NHS Connecting for Health (NHS CfH).
Three initiatives have materialised from these efforts:
- The NHS Connecting for Health Research Capability Programme to take action on recommendations;
- The OSCHR E-Health Records Research Board which operates alongside the Research Capability Programme, with strategic oversight.
- The Wellcome Trust partnership with three UK Research Councils to fund research on electronic patient records and databases.
The company is leveraging its existing telecom infrastructure and know-how to facilitate the government’s eHealth projects. BT Health, part of the BT Global Services division since 2011, is a significant supplier of networked IT services to the NHS and other healthcare providers, both within the UK and globally.
Given that BT has a monopoly on rural broadband projects funded by BDUK, the company is also in a prime position to extend its in-house telecoms network serving the NHS. BT’s close business links with the government were in evidence earlier this year when the Chief Operating Officer and deputy chief executive of the NHS Commissioning Board left to become president of global health at BT Global Services.
BT’s involvement is evidenced at several levels. Crucially, it built the ‘N3’ broadband network, one of the world’s largest private networks, which connects all NHS facilities and more than a million NHS staff. It is part of a wider health system and forms the core infrastructure for a range of services offered.
BT’s projects include:
- NHS Spine service, a database for patient data which also enables messaging between patients and health centres. A complementary demographics service holds data on most of the UK’s population which are served by the NHS.
- Secondary Uses Service, which provides access to health information and so allows managers to analyse data in planning NHS projects and so improve patient outcomes.
- Picture Archiving and Communications Systems service, which stores images such as X-rays and scans to be shared among NHS centres.
- BT MeetMe, supported by N3 as a national video-conferencing service. This allows patients to create video links with one or more health providers, instead of journeying to meetings personally. BT expects that the service will save the NHS more than £160 million annually when fully deployed, principally on transport costs.
- BT Mobile Health Worker, a system by which healthcare workers using laptops and mobile telecoms can access patients’ records, support systems and databases wherever they are. The Department of Health’s National Mobile Health Worker project expects that the initiative could save £3,000 per clinician annually.
These services are increasingly making use of BT’s ‘eHealth Cloud’. Medical transcription uses voice-to-text software to enable practitioners to dictate into devices including smartphones. Transcriptions are then stored in the cloud for retrieval across NHS centres. Medical imaging is also hosted on BT’s health cloud.
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