D4. Telehealth

Telemonitoring interventions ranging from simple telephone follow-up to daily telemonitoring of physiological or symptom scores, to more complex telemonitoring interventions with greatly enhanced clinical support; have been evaluated in patients with COPD. A Cochrane Review found that telehealth may have an impact on quality of life and emergency attendances in COPD, however, further research is needed to clarify its precise roles, as to date trials have included telecare as part of more complex packages (McLean 2011)[evidence level I).  The positive effect of telemonitoring seen in some trials could thus be due to enhancement of the underpinning clinical service rather than to the telemonitoring communication.

Pinnock et al separated the effects of telemonitoring from the effects of existing services by adding telemonitoring alone to background self-management and clinical support in the usual care group. Adults registered with general practices in Scotland who had been admitted to hospital with an exacerbation of COPD in the previous year and who were thus at risk of future admissions were randomised to telemonitoring or usual care. All participants received self-management advice—education on self-management of exacerbations reinforced with a booklet, a written management plan, and an emergency supply of antibiotics and steroids, integrated within the standard clinical care service for the region. The telemonitoring package consisted of touch screen operated daily questionnaires about symptoms and drug use, with an instrument to measure oxygen saturation. Data were transmitted daily by an internet connection to the clinical monitoring team, which contacted patients whose score reached a validated threshold. Algorithms, based on the symptom score, alerted the clinical monitoring team if daily readings had not been submitted or if a high symptom score had been recorded. Clinicians responded by advising rescue drugs, a home visit, admission to hospital, or further review. Intervention fidelity was high. After 12 months, no difference was seen in hospital admissions for COPD between the two groups (hazard ratio 0.98, 95% CI 0.66 to 1.44). Furthermore, no differences were seen in health related quality of life, anxiety or depression, self-efficacy, knowledge, or adherence to drugs. This trial suggested that the addition of telemonitoring to the management of high risk patients, over and above the backdrop of self-management education and a good clinical service, is costly and ineffective (Pinnock 2013) [evidence level II). These findings are in agreement with a 2011 systematic review of telemonitoring, which suggested that in the absence of other care packages the benefit of telemonitoring is not yet proven and that further work is required before its wide-scale implementation (Bolton 2011). A systematic review (Gregersen 2016) examined the effects of telehealth on quality of life in COPD. Of 18 suitable studies found, only three demonstrated significant improvements in quality of life as a consequence of a telehealth intervention.  A further study of telehealth with multiple components (COMET) also failed to demonstrate reduction in hospitalisation based on intention to treat analysis (Kessler 2018).  It is noted there was reduced mortality as a safety/secondary outcome in the per-protocol analysis.

In contrast to the above studies, Segrelles et al., demonstrated that telehealth monitoring with daily tele- transmission of indices from home, including self-recorded oxygen saturation and peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), by patients with severe LTOT dependent COPD, with monitoring for pre-determined ‘red flag’ deteriorations in indices by nurses, was associated with an approximate halving of emergency room visits, admissions, and hospital bed days (Segrelles Calvo 2014) [evidence level II]. Similarly, in a prospective randomised controlled study from Taiwan where 106 patients were randomised to usual care (including telephone calls) or telemedicine which involved accessing a website to record a range of daily variables with clinician access and intervention depending upon certain “flags”, time to readmission was significantly greater in the telemedicine group (p=0.026) (Ho 2016).

A 12 month program of home-based telerehabilitation included both an exercise program at home (three times weekly) following a two month hospital-based pulmonary rehabilitation program as well as self management education, regular review by a team of health professionals via phone or Skype weekly, self monitoring of lung function and access to a helpline. This program was compared with a hospital-based pulmonary rehabilitation program twice weekly and to usual care.  The control group had no initial pulmonary rehabilitation and both groups received sustained intensive pulmonary rehabilitation.  Both home-based telerehabilitation and centre-based pulmonary rehabilitation reduced exacerbations and hospitalisations compared with usual care (mean+SD for exacerbations 1.7+1.7 vs. 1.8+1.4 vs. 3.5+1.8 respectively, p<0.001; hospitalisations 0.3+0.7 vs. 0.3+0.6 vs. 1.2+1.7 respectively, p<0.001). The home-based telerehabilitation group also had a lower rate of ED attendances in the 12 months of follow-up than the hospital-based group and usual care group (0.5+0.9 vs. 1.8+1.5 vs. 3.5+1.8 respectively, p<0.001).  The home-based program was intensive and the results impressive, however a cost analysis was not included in the study (Vasilopoulou 2017).  In an Australian study of telerehabilitation comparing 8 weeks of group exercise training thrice weekly with up to four remote participants, the endurance shuttle walk test improved significantly in the trained group compared with usual care: 340 seconds (95% CO 153-526, p<0.001) (MCID 180 seconds). However there were no significant differences in quality of life or physical activity measured as steps walked per day between the two groups (Tsai 2017) [evidence level II].

An RCT that evaluated a simple nurse initiated telephone follow-up of COPD patients following admission to hospital with an acute exacerbation of COPD or pneumonia (n=224), did not demonstrate any reduction in readmission or mortality at 30 or 84 days post discharge.  The intervention group received a nurse initiated phone call at two days post discharge and further calls if deemed necessary.  At 30 and 84 days the proportion of those readmitted in the intervention and control groups was 33 and 34% (p=0.84), and 32 and 27% (p=0.66), respectively.  The intervention group did however report more confidence in disease management (Lavesen 2016).

In a randomised controlled trial, 470 COPD patients with at least 2 comorbidities were recruited from a metropolitan and a rural centre.  The intervention comprised a combination of telephone consults, action plans, and other components and was found to have no effect on the number of emergency department visits and hospital admissions; however, mortality was reduced (Rose 2018) [evidence level II].

Baroi et al reviewed feasibility and comparative studies, which used a heterogeneous range of measurement devices (including spirometers, respiratory rate sensors, impedance oscillometers, auscultation microphones, pedometers, capnometers, and oximeters), which aimed to identify COPD, and/or to detect early exacerbations of COPD.  Information communication methods between subjects and clinicians included videoconferencing and questionnaires.  The studies that did report positive results were more likely to be those that were more integrated into existing respiratory outpatient services, and in people with high risk of readmission due to a COPD exacerbation.  The combination of online consultations with availability of home-based nebuliser and medical therapies could provide an effective “virtual hospital” (Baroi 2018).