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Report finds telehealth services are cost effective, clinically successful


By Joseph Conn
Posted: July 11, 2013 - 1:45 pm ET
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Studies of healthcare systems in the U.S. and abroad show providers have achieved financial and clinical success with implementing telehealth services, according to a report by the healthcare research arm of Computer Sciences Corp.

The four-page report, by the Falls Church, Va.-based defense, intelligence and information technology consulting firm's Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices, reviews telehealth studies in Germany, the U.K., as well as the U.S.

While there remain problems with properly quantifying the return on investment in telehealth programs, “the evidence shows that, implemented properly, telehealth can be cost-effective, with benefits accruing across the whole healthcare system, not just acute care providers,” the report authors said.

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And while “(i)solating and evaluating the net benefit of a telehealth program can, under some circumstances, be challenging,” the report authors advise the best way to measure the value of telehealth “takes into consideration not just clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness, but also factors such as service utilization, patient satisfaction and patient reported outcomes.”

Telehealth is the provision of health services using communication technology, such as video or telephone conferencing to the patient's home, wearable or implantable health monitoring, and remotely operated robotic surgery.

Europe might be “a little bit further along,” than the U.S. in telehealth, said Jared Rhoads, a senior research specialist with the institute. But “a lot of places are in pilot phases. Probably nowhere are there absolutely massive-scale telehealth deployments. He said only the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is using telehealth on a pretty massive scale.

Rhoads mentioned a report released in January by the health IT research organization, InMedica, that concluded world wide about 308,000 patients were receiving telemonitoring services for ailments such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, hypertension and mental health. Those numbers are expected to grow rapidly.

In March, in an article in the British Medical Journal, researchers from the City University London's School of Health Sciences reported that a telehealth service did not improve patients' mental and physical quality of life.

And that outcome points to the difficulty in assessing the value of telehealth, Rhoads said.

“We're not trying to refute that with this paper, or say that they were wrong, or they had the wrong methodology,” he said. “We're just saying, be that as it may, there's one that didn't work out, but there are lots of others we're seeing that show there are lots of benefits. So, don't let these other ones go, because they're fairly positive.”

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn


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