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Remote health services beneficial – but don’t always save money

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Published: 03 February 2023

Remote health services are hugely beneficial to users but do not always save money, new research shows.

Researchers studied the effectiveness of supporting patients through a hybrid service. This meant a combination of through consultations online, on the phone and in person. They evaluated two public health services - Forward Leeds and the Welsh National Exercise Referral Scheme.

They found remote services were highly valued by users but expensive to set up. This is due to the need to invest in digital technology and IT staff. This would increase staff costs.

Both healthcare services did report benefits from remote delivery. Both found remote delivery widened access to people who cannot attend in-person sessions. This included people with disabilities and caring responsibilities. Forward Leeds saw more people attend sessions and fewer cancellations.

‘Make digital healthcare more efficient’

The University of Herefordshire researchers are part of the NIHR Public Health Intervention Responsive Studies Teams (PHIRST) programme. This research was funded by the NIHR Public Health Research Programme.

Researchers say delivering services digitally will not help to reduce costs but the benefits outweigh the costs. They also recommend making digital services more efficient, cost effective and accessible to all.

Katherine Brown, Professor of Behaviour Change in Health at the University of Hertfordshire and PHIRST Connect Chief Investigator, said: “While our research has clearly shown that the digital option isn’t necessarily the cheaper choice for service providers, it also demonstrates the importance of continuing to support this model of delivery and why healthy funding is needed for these services to thrive in a hybrid model.

“While in-person treatment can lead to more effective welfare checks and improved rapport, engaging remotely is helpful for those with mobility restrictions, caring responsibilities, or severe social anxiety. For some people, digital services are the only way they can access the health support they need.”

Katie Newby, Associate Professor in Health Behaviour Change and PHIRST co-investigator, said: “It’s important that people who are engaging remotely don’t miss out due to lack of funding or support. We know that staff do fantastic work in both formats, and this needs to be supported and bolstered by continued investment and development.

“Having the flexibility to offer both remote and in-person engagement adds a valuable new dimension to care that can widen access while still offering a high-level service.”


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