Study: Telehealth not cost effective for chronic patients

Telehealth failed to produce gains more cost effectively than standard care alone in a new study published at BMJ. That work comes on the heels of previous research in the journal that found telehealth produced  no significant improvements in reported quality of life or anxiety or depression symptoms.

Both studies were part of the British government's Whole System Demonstrator Evaluation of telehealth. The latest study tracked 534 patients with heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes who received telehealth services for 12 months along with usual care, and 431 who received usual care alone.

In the telehealth program, patients received equipment that enabled them to take measurements like blood pressure and blood glucose level at home and transmit readings electronically to a healthcare professional, according to Reuters.

Based on the cost per quality adjusted life year (QALY), cost for the telehealth users was 92,000 pounds ($139,200). By comparison, the U.K. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence uses a threshold of 30,000 pounds to determine whether a medical intervention is cost effective.

Meanwhile, the adjusted mean difference in QALY gain between groups at 12 months was 0.012, and the probability of cost effectiveness was low (11 percent), according to an announcement accompanying the research.

"We have got to find ways of better adjusting the equipment to suit the circumstances of the individual patient," Martin Knapp, a professor of social policy at the London School of Economics and a lead author on the study, told Reuters. "Just at the moment we don't find the advantage that people had hoped for."

An estimated 1.8 million patients will be treated via telehealth worldwide by 2017, with diabetes monitoring expected to overtake chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as the second-most monitored condition after congestive heart failure.

Two U.S. senators this week reintroduced a bill aimed at boosting telehealth use to reduce hospital readmissions for Medicare beneficiaries in rural and underserved areas. The bill has been shot down in Congress four times since 2005.

To learn more:
- find the research
- here's the Reuters story
- check out the announcement