A recent study published in Medical Decision Making outlined a detailed comparison of telemedicine (usage of telecommunications technology for remote consultation, diagnosis, and treatment of patients) with consultation via telephone for pediatric cases in remote-area hospitals. The findings of the study, conducted by researchers at UC Davis in Sacramento, revealed that telemedicine saves upwards of $4,500 per case, which more than makes up for any expenditures on the technology.
Previous studies have already established the advantages of telemedicine for children and their families, as well as doctors – telemedicine is known to decrease errors in medication, and increases satisfaction on part of both patients and parents. However, little research has been done on finding out whether it cuts costs for any of the parties involved.
The study was conducted by researchers belonging to UC Davis’ Pediatric Critical Care Telemedicine Program, and its sample included consultations offered by healthcare providers at UC Davis to 8 emergency departments in rural areas, between 2003 to 2009. Within this duration, the researchers delimited their study to five conditions – dehydration, fever, pneumonia, asthma, and bronchitis.
These conditions were chosen because they can be treated in remote hospitals and do not require the aid of telemedicine.
The researchers compared each rural clinic’s expenses for installation of equipment required for telemedicine to the costs of transport and on-call specialists – the findings revealed that each cost around $3,640 but also saved $4,660 on average. The cost of telemedicine consultations, in fact, reduced patient transfers (and costly transfers via air ambulance) by 31%.
Physicians based in California are paid for consultations via telemedicine but providers in various other states do not enjoy the same advantage. James Marcin, interim head of pediatric critical care medicine at UC Davis, stated that owing to the varied benefits of telemedicine, it is prudent to work on creating incentives for physicians to adopt this model, by ensuring that they are paid for implementing and utilizing this technology.
The savings that can be obtained via telehealth are not solely limited to a decrease in healthcare costs. The implementation of telehealth in the workplace also leads to minimal time wastage, decreased nonattendance rates, and increased productivity among workers.