This is a plain English summary of an original research article
Home telephone or telemonitoring support can bring some aspects of specialised care and monitoring into the homes of people with heart failure. This updated Cochrane review confirmed that people with heart failure who received home telehealth support were less likely to die or go into hospital for problems relating to their heart failure than those getting usual care.
Usual care involved visiting a GP surgery or hospital for care and monitoring, which may be difficult for frail people with limited mobility. The review included seventeen new trials since the last review was published five years ago. More evidence is needed on which people would gain most benefit, particularly considering that people with heart failure can have different underlying health problems, multiple conditions and care needs.
Data on cost of the interventions compared to usual care was mixed (some found it more expensive and some less expensive overall). Information on the cost effectiveness of telehealth support for people living with heart failure in the UK context was not covered by this review.
Why was this study needed?
Heart failure is a condition with various underlying causes where the heart muscle is usually weak or stretched and not able to pump blood to meet the body’s needs. It causes symptoms such as breathlessness, tiredness and ankle swelling.
Heart failure affects over half a million people in the UK - mainly older adults - with an average of 30 heart failure patients per GP. In hospital, heart failure accounts for 5% of all emergency medical admissions and 2% of all NHS inpatient bed-days.
As well as the cost implications of this care, attending clinic appointments can be difficult for a predominantly elderly, frail population. Telephone or telehealth support, where a person’s health (e.g. weight and heart rate) is monitored at home via phone calls or other technology, has shown promising results in earlier research.
This review is an update of a 2010 Cochrane review, as 17 new trials had been published in the interim. The 2010 Cochrane review had found that structured telephone support or non-invasive home telemonitoring (see Definitions) reduced the risk of death from any cause and heart failure-related hospital admissions. However, some recent trials had not found reduced risk for these outcomes. An update to the review was carried out to clarify the effectiveness of the interventions.
What did this study do?
This Cochrane systematic review included 41 trials that compared structured telephone support or non-invasive home telemonitoring to usual care at clinic appointments, for people living at home with chronic heart failure. Care could not include home visits or clinic follow-up that was more intensive than usual.
The main outcomes were death from all causes, and rates of admission to hospital, for all causes or for heart failure-related reasons. The review also assessed costs, patient satisfaction with the interventions, and their knowledge of heart failure, ability to care for themselves and quality of life changes.
The study was carried out to a high standard and its methods were reliable. However, the quality of the included evidence was assessed as very low for all-cause hospital admissions, to moderate for all-cause mortality and heart failure-related hospital admissions. This was largely because of a risk that studies reporting positive findings were more likely to be published and suggests the overall finding and balance might be influenced by the exclusion of negative findings. All but two took place in non-UK countries with similar healthcare systems, such as the US or Europe.
What did it find?
- Non-invasive telemonitoring reduced deaths from all causes by 20% (relative risk [RR] 0.80, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.68 to 0.94; pooled data from 17 studies including 3,740 participants) this was equivalent to about 31 deaths avoided per 1000 patients.
- Non-invasive telemonitoring reduced heart failure-related admissions to hospital by 29% (RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.60 to 0.83; pooled data from eight studies including 2,148 participants).
- Structured telephone support also reduced deaths from all causes by 13% (RR 0.87, 95% CI 0.77 to 0.98; pooled data from 22 studies including 9,222 participants) this was equivalent to about 15 admissions avoided per 1000 patients. Heart failure-related admissions to hospital were reduced by 15% (RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.77 to 0.93; pooled data from 16 studies including 7,030 participants).
- Neither structured telephone support nor telemonitoring had any effect on the risk of all-cause admissions to hospital.
- Participant adherence with telephone support or telemonitoring was between 55% and 99% in studies that reported this outcome. Participant acceptance of the interventions was 76% to 97%, and seven out of nine studies reported improved heart failure knowledge and participants’ ability to care for themselves.
- Three of nine studies telephone support studies reported that it decreased costs. In six telemonitoring studies one reported that it reduced costs, two increased costs.
What does current guidance say on this issue?
NICE guidance (2010) advises on the monitoring required for people with chronic heart failure (e.g. reviewing their clinical status and treatment) and its frequency. NICE also recommend that patients who wish to be involved in monitoring their condition should be provided with sufficient education and support from their healthcare professional to do this, with clear guidance on what to do in the event of deterioration. However, there is currently no specific guidance on the use of telehealth interventions or how this compares with face to face monitoring.
What are the implications?
Telephone support or other forms of telehealth monitoring could be an acceptable option for people living at home with chronic heart failure, who tend to be elderly and frail and who may find frequent clinic visits difficult. The reviews’ findings add further evidence that these interventions can reduce mortality and heart failure-related hospital admissions in these people. This may inform the 2010 NICE guidance on heart failure, which is being scheduled for an update.
The trials included in the current review covered various interventions. All but two took place in non-UK countries such as the US or Europe. More research is needed to understand which specific interventions work best in UK contexts, and which people would gain most benefit – particularly considering that older people with chronic heart failure can also have other underlying illnesses and care needs. Information on the cost effectiveness in the NHS is also needed. Commissioners will be considering relative costs of different approaches. Unfortunately cost-effectiveness information is not provided in this review.
Inglis SC, Clark RA, Dierckx R, et al. Structured telephone support or non-invasive telemonitoring for patients with heart failure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(10):CD007228.
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Produced by the University of Southampton and Bazian on behalf of NIHR through the NIHR Dissemination Centre