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New research by the University of Lincoln, Lincolnshire County Council and Serco into how assistive technology could help people recovering from medical conditions live independently at home has found that the introduction of telehealth could prove to be a health and social care game-changer.

Telehealth is a combination of internet communications, imaging, sensing and computing technologies that are designed to help remotely monitor and diagnose patients, without disturbing the quality of their lifestyle.

The university-led ‘Social Care Technology Innovation for the Citizens of Lincolnshire’ project, running since June this year, has found that the introduction of a low-cost medical sensing, communication and analytics device could offer huge benefits in real-time monitoring of patients’ physiological conditions and potentially speed up support and treatment.

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“We’ve experimented with a system developed by our university researchers called ‘CogSense,’ which is used alongside conventional sensors to enable real-time care for patients,” explains Dr Salah Al-Majeed, Deputy Head of the School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln.

“Using a camera and voice recorder it can recognise human emotions and other physiological factors which help predict changes in a patient’s circulation and blood pressure.

“The investigation also imitated a realistic telehealth environment using a ‘network simulator’ to test the speed and reliability of CogSense messages as they were communicated through the internet, a particularly important factor for rural areas like Lincolnshire where broadband speeds and internet access can often be limited.”

Early findings indicate a number of significant benefits offered by expanded telehealth support for vulnerable people across Lincolnshire and some key areas of improvement that are required to make such a system viable.

Benefits emerging from the ongoing research indicate that telehealth can offer the NHS and those it helps:

  • Improved hospital management and patient discharge support
  • Reduced patient waiting times
  • Improved medical and medication reviews
  • Real-time decision-making
  • A reduction in unnecessary clinical visits
  • Monitoring and understanding what is ‘normal’ for an individual, and when any changes or deterioration occur, alerting care and health services

“However,” continues Dr Al-Majeed, “there are also a number of challenges that still face the implementation of telehealth, ranging from it being yet another tool for users to understand; digital and social exclusion; low take-up; maintenance and operating costs, and poor leadership.”

The project is now continuing to examine how affordable, unobtrusive home technology could enhance social and health care services and improve the lives of almost 12,000 adults the council currently helps support each year.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for digital transformation in social and health care. As such, it is vital that Lincolnshire keeps pace with this acceleration and focuses on innovation and the modernisation of its infrastructure investments,” says Dr Al Majeed.

Ben Johnson, Serco’s Head of IT for its operations with Lincolnshire County Council, adds: “We are beginning to see the first signs of the Government’s social care transformation plan through additional social care budget funded by an increase in National Insurance.

“The timing of this collaborative research project with Lincolnshire County Council and the University of Lincoln could not be more significant. Its findings will highlight key opportunities and challenges with respect to how we must innovate to deliver a high quality, next generation and accessible social care service to UK citizens.”

Theo Jarratt, Lincolnshire County Council’s lead representative for the project, concludes: “We want to encourage those receiving social care and support, and individuals working in Lincolnshire’s care services, to contribute to our ongoing surveys, which ask key questions about people’s use, thoughts and opinions on technological support in adult social care.

“The survey takes less than 10 minutes and the input provided is invaluable, so we sincerely thank people in advance for participating.”

To access the Carers’ Questionnaire, click here 

To access the Adult Care Recipients’ Questionnaire, click here 

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