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Is telehealth a benefit or a threat to the UK’s healthcare?

Some experts are concerned that the shift from traditional healthcare services to remote consultations could be contributory to these increased deaths.

The integration of wearables into healthcare has been a focus of research and development for various institutions. Image by Peter H Charlton. Wikipedia CC BY 2.5
The integration of wearables into healthcare has been a focus of research and development for various institutions. Image by Peter H Charlton. Wikipedia CC BY 2.5

While the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) adopted virtual health solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic with good intentions. Here, some people clearly prefer to use telehealth apps as healthcare needs arise. However, there is evidence that suggests remote health solutions may not be the most effective options in the post-pandemic world.

Telehealth is the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies.

This assertion means telehealth may be causing more harm than good. In a surprising twist, telehealth – conceived as a life-saving innovation – has received criticism in association with unintended fatalities nationwide.

For example, a report released by the Office for National Statistics in September 2021 showed an increase in deaths at home in England and Wales. The report revealed 25,472 more home deaths between March 2020 and February 2021 compared to the 2015-2019 average.

It is additionally worth noting that a mere 9 percent of these extra deaths were due to COVID-19. The majority were attributed to conditions such as heart disease, dementia, and lung diseases, the treatment and care for which typically involve person-to-person, immediate medical attention.

Some experts are concerned that the shift from traditional healthcare services to remote consultations could be contributory to these increased deaths. Yet, no substantial evidence has been produced, leaving the theory inconclusive and inciting calls for comprehensive studies on the matter.

Josh Gordon, a technology expert at Geonode tells Digital Journal about his thoughts on the dangers of telehealth: “Telehealth technology promises accessibility and convenience. But the elimination of face-to-face interactions could hinder accurate diagnosis and treatment. The aftermath of such errors could be severe and, in the worst-case scenarios, fatal. It’s analogous to walking a tightrope. Unless we strike the perfect balance between physical and digital healthcare, we might confront a crisis subtly brewing beneath the surface.”

 Gordon notes the following drawbacks and potential perilous pitfalls of telehealth:

  • Difficulty diagnosing complex conditions without physical examination. 
  • Missing subtle visual cues that can aid in diagnosis. 
  • The endangerment of patient privacy due to potential data breaches. 
  • Increased risk of miscommunication leading to medical errors. 
  • Certain patients, particularly the elderly or disabled, may struggle with the technology.

Remedying the situation may necessitate revisiting and restructuring healthcare strategies, observes Gordon. He adds: “By ensuring patients who require physical treatment can readily access it, while those better suited to virtual consultations can continue to use telehealth, we can meet the demand for healthcare in a more effective, efficient and patient-centric manner.”

Furthermore, Gordon says: “The situation is reminiscent of an old juggling act; it’s not about negating one for the other – it’s about keeping all balls in the air at once. As patients, healthcare professionals, and policymakers, we must hold the situation in our collective palms and shape the future of healthcare that’s equitable, efficient, and lifesaving first.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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