New Telehealth pilot support for Older People

By Dan Walsh

Minister of State at the Department of Health Mary Butler has launched a report of the findings from an innovative telehealth pilot which set out to provide a 12-week telehealth intervention to 50 patients in Wexford with a chronic illness.

Telehealth refers to the use of electronic and telecommunication technologies to support healthcare at a distance from the patient. This year in County Wexford a telehealth pilot project was undertaken by a multi-agency Stakeholder Group (Wexford County Council-Age Friendly Programme including the Wexford Older Peoples Council, Age Friendly Ireland, HSE, Wexford General Hospital, including Consultant Geriatrician and Clinical Nurse Specialists and Tunstall Emergency Response).

This pilot project set out to provide a 12-week telehealth intervention to 50 patients with chronic illnesses including Chronic Heart Disease, COPD and Diabetes. The project was independently evaluated and monitored by Waterford Institute of Technology and their research report, including their findings and recommendations was launched in Wexford by Minister Mary Butler.

Telehealth can be used to support older adults to self-manage their health conditions within their own homes. Depending on the health condition being monitored, patients were provided with specific equipment. The patients with COPD were asked to use a blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter and thermometer.

Those with CHF used the blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter and scales, while the patients with diabetes recorded their blood pressure, weight and could also if they wished manually input their blood glucose readings. The patients input their readings daily into a tablet and this information was transferred to clinicians at Wexford General Hospital, with an alarm system in place if the readings were outside of limits set by the medical team.

Speaking at the launch, Mr Tom Enright, Chief Executive of Wexford County Council said; “The Joint Departmental Housing Options for Older People set out a clear objective of how assistive technology can support older people to age in place. Throughout the pandemic the need for adaptive technology solutions has never been more important. I am delighted that Wexford County Council, through its Age Friendly Programme is actively engaged in working with Age Friendly Ireland to address the emerging needs that this report is highlighting here today, and I look forward to the next phase of this project’.

Minister Butler said; “With a rapidly increasing population of older adults in Ireland, the enhancement of community supports and health interventions that will enable the realisation of care as close to home as possible has never been so important.  As Minister, I am committed to maximising the use of virtual and telehealth services to enhance access to supports for individuals and their families.”

This Wexford telehealth pilot is very timely in the context not only of an ageing population but also in the context of Covid 19. Phase Two of the Telehealth project will see it expanding to other counties and is an indication of the success of Phase One.

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