Patients with heart failure recruited for technology pilot to help manage their condition

Heart failure patients are taking part in a pilot project across Bradford and Airedale to see if telehealth helps them to manage their condition and have a better quality of life.

The project is being run for 12 months up to December and will be evaluated by York University Health Economics Consortium.

Recruitment started in February and recently closed resulting in 46 patients across Bradford and Airedale being currently monitored.

Patients newly diagnosed with heart failure who also had broadband within their home were eligible to be included in the project, this was then extended to any patient with the condition who would benefit from telehealth.

They are supplied with an ipad to link to a team of heart failure nurses initially and then senior nurses based in the Telehealth Hub at Airedale Hospital – so they can get advice and care, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They also are given equipment to monitor their own blood pressure, oxygen saturation level, pulse rate and weight on a daily basis.

Heart failure is a serious, long-term condition which means that patients are at risk of fluid building up in their body as their heart is not pumping properly. They quickly become breathless and incredibly tired. Generally their health is unstable and they are at risk of chest infections due to excessive fluid in their lungs. It is diagnosed with an echocardiogram (like an ultra sound of the heart). The condition can be the result of a heart attack damaging the heart muscle, be hereditary or as a result of a virus infection or be brought on by pregnancy amongst other reasons. Heart failure patients are frequently in hospital, and it is normally for on average around eight days. The condition cannot be cured but can be managed by medication.

The heart failure nurses assess and screen patients with the aim of making sure patient are on the most appropriate dose and combination of medication to stabalise their condition as quickly as possible.

One of the benefits of the telehealth service is that it reduces the time that the team has to spend going out on visits which means they can help more patients. It also gives patients more control of their health as they are recording their own readings and can quickly alert nurses if they detect a problem. Nurses get up-to-date information about a patient’s condition based on their monitoring.   It also reduces the number of hospital admissions and visits to Emergency Departments and increases the face-to-face contact patients can have, day or night, with clinicians.

“Our patients absolutely love telehealth,” said heart failure specialist nurse Sharon Grimsdale who works in the Bradford South and West area based at Queensbury health centre.

She said: “It gives them the peace of mind that they can ring someone out of hours, even during holidays and weekends.

“Telehealth has reduced the number of patients who contact us due to anxiety resulting in us giving them reassurance rather than treating a medical problem.

“It is also is great for allowing patients to manage their own health better and giving them the confidence to do it at home or on holiday.”

One woman who contacted Airedale’s Telehealth Hub was swiftly admitted to hospital with a dangerous level of fluid in her body and appropriately assessed and stabilised. She lived alone and would normally have simply waited for her daughter to visit to take care of her.

A patient can now speak to the heart failure nurses using a secure video link about decreasing their dose of medication and visit their local GP for a blood test to check their condition is stable. This can save a nurse up to an hour in travel time visiting the patient which means they can help others.

Sue Mercer has viral cardio myopathy and the heart failure team have been working to optomise her medication to control her condition. She is 63 years old and lives in Wrose with her husband Alan. She has been using the service since October 2014.

“I haven’t needed to use the service that often, but I never switch the equipment off and it’s always charged up ready to use in an emergency,” said Sue.

“It’s really good as you can actually speak to someone face- to- face which is so much better than having to keep traveling to appointments for a weekly check- up. It was great for me when I couldn’t drive and must save nurses a lot of time too.”

Sue records her blood pressure and oxygen levels every day and the heart failure team have been monitoring this. She also suffers from low blood pressure and recently shattered her wrist after a fall which have caused her treatment time to be longer.

It was last September when she noticed there was something wrong and she was struggling to recover from flu. Sue was originally diagnosed as being asthmatic as she was breathless and could hardly climb up stairs. She was then referred for an ECG by clinicians who thought she had suffered a heart attack. It was through blood tests that her diagnosis of heart failure caused by a virus was confirmed.

Sue, aged 63, took retirement from her work as an administrative and finance manager for a children’s charity a few months early on health grounds. Now she is feeling better Sue has gone back to working as a mobile hairdresser.

“I’ve always been quite fit and had lots of energy until being struck down with that dose of gastric flu. I feel much better though these days.”