Patients in the Wakefield district suffering from chronic heart failure are taking part in a trial which allows them to manage their condition better from home. The partnership trial, being run by BT and Wakefield District Community Healthcare Services (WDCHS) - part of NHS Wakefield District - uses an interactive personal health system called the Intel® Health Guide. This allows patients to record important information about their health including vital signs such as blood pressure, oxygen levels and weight. These can then be sent over the patient’s broadband line for analysis by their community nurse.

The benefit of the system is that nurses can more easily monitor early warning signs that a patient’s health may be deteriorating and proactively respond to their patients’ needs. For example, patients with chronic heart failure can experience rapid weight gain over a few days due to water retention if they don’t take their medication. The system enables this to be spotted early on so that corrective action can be taken.

The Intel Health Guide, provided and managed by BT, is easy to use and prompts the patient to input information about their health. It also has videoconferencing, which means the healthcare professional treating the patient can hold a consultation with them from their computer.

Richard Brothwell, WDCHS community heart failure matron, is one of the healthcare professionals trialling the system. He said: “This technology allows us to keep in touch with patients and monitor their health daily without always seeing them physically. That means we can see more patients and those taking part in the trial are telling us they find the remote monitoring very reassuring.”

The trial runs until February 2011. A decision on whether the service will be taken on board on a permanent basis will be dependent on how it evaluates, against both patient and healthcare professional satisfaction and value for money.

Alan Wittrick, chief executive of NHS Wakefield District, said: “Locally we have a higher incidence of patients with chronic conditions than the national average and with heart disease being a particular issue we decided to focus our trial on chronic heart failure patients. The aim is to see if technology could benefit their quality of life and help us to manage their condition better.

“While in its early days, overall the feedback we are receiving from patients and community nurses is encouraging. Patients have said they feel more in control of their condition and in some cases it has transformed their lives, although we appreciate this won’t be the case for everyone on the trial.

“We know that constant visits to hospital or clinics can be debilitating and we are looking to see if this trial could in the long term help to reduce the need for these. The system provides reassurance to patients that changes in their condition can be picked up through the timely analysis of data.”

Wakefield patient David Ward, aged 69, had a heart bypass 12 years ago and says the interactive health system has given him a new lease of life. Mr Ward said: “Obviously I owe my life to the cardiology team at Dewsbury and District Hospital who fitted a defibrillator with pacemaker last year. But this system has given me the confidence to lead as normal life as possible with my heart condition.

“It wakes me up with a ‘good morning’ — I open up the screen and do my key tests and within two minutes, if all is well, I’m done for the day. If not I can talk and see Richard, the community heart failure matron, through the videoconferencing feature and he tells me what’s needed. That might mean keeping a closer eye on my health that day or a slight change in my medication.

“Because of the confidence I have in this system, I don’t worry about my health like I used to. I sleep better and don’t have the panic attacks I used to and I’ve started to walk small distances again - I’d go as far as saying it’s given me a new lease of life.”

BT Health’s chief clinical officer, Dr Justin Whatling, said: “The remote monitoring of patients, or telehealth, is of strategic importance to the health sector as chronic conditions place increasing pressure on its resources. There is a pressing need to shift the emphasis to self-care and lower the cost of health care. The Wakefield trial demonstrates how the patient can benefit in terms of quality of life and the community nurse can work more effectively.

“For BT and Intel this is particularly exciting. We are both major players in the health IT market and are working together to deliver telehealth solutions to the market.

“Telehealth not only demonstrates how existing technology can benefit patients and give them more control and confidence in the care they receive; it also has the potential to save the health service millions of pounds.”