Pediatric telemedicine program with rural EDs nets savings

A pediatric telemedicine program can improve quality, safety and patient satisfaction while also saving money, according to new research from the University of California Davis Children's Hospital.

James Marcin, UC Davis interim head of pediatric critical care medicine, previously headed published research showing "significant" improvements in care quality through telemedicine for children treated at rural emergency rooms. That study, however, didn't address the costs of providing those services, according to an announcement.

New research, published in the journal Medical Decision Making, analyzed the costs of implementing and maintaining the telemedicine program and weighed those against records at eight rural emergency departments between 2003 and 2009.

The team focused on five conditions--asthma, bronchiolitis, dehydration, fever and pneumonia--that can be treated at rural hospitals with proper guidance.

The costs to rural hospitals include equipment, software and IT support. In addition, urban hospitals must pay subspecialists to be on call to assist rural colleagues. The researchers put the cost of telemedicine consultation at $3,641 per child/per year in 2013 dollars.

At the same time, telemedicine consultations resulted in 31 percent fewer patient transfers--air ambulance transfers in particular significantly boost costs--compared with telephone consultations and a cost reduction of $4,662 per child/per year. The researchers found a $1.96 return on investment for each dollar spent on telemedicine.

Treating 10 acutely ill or injured children at each rural ED with telemedicine resulted in an annual cost-savings of $46,620 per ED.

Previous UC Davis research also found that rural hospitals that used telemedicine technology and referred patients to children's facilities saw a boost in revenue. The researchers determined that average annual hospital revenue for the facilities examined jumped from $2.4 million before telemedicine deployment to $4 million afterward.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- find the abstract