Study: Pediatric telehealth leads to big savings

Looking for a cost-saver in your hospital's pediatric department? Look into telehealth, says a Defense Department study on pediatric telehealth visits. A three-year study in the Pacific Rim shows telehealth can significantly trim costs in pediatric practice.

Called the Pacific Asynchronous TeleHealth (PATH) program, the DoD project has saved the military as much as $750,000 per year by allowing provider-to-provider communications, most notably for patients in remote areas where pediatric specialists aren't available, researchers say.

The big savings: Telehealth consults kept patients from having to be transferred to larger facilities up to 43 percent of the time. "Internet-based pediatric subspecialty teleconsultation provides fast, convenient, cost-effective, quality pediatric care to populations of patients who might otherwise require transfer to a distant medical facility for more advanced care," study authors say.

The study covered more than 1,000 patient visits between 2006 and 2009 in community hospitals in Japan to South Korea and Guam. In most cases, seriously ill pediatric patients had to be transported to U.S. military hospitals in Hawaii, and required "costly air fare and lodging, which represent[ed] significant cost to the DoD healthcare system," researchers note.

The vast majority (75 percent) of telehealth calls were made by physicians with questions about their patients' diagnoses, the study says. In 74 percent of the cases, the providers' online discussion led to a change in diagnosis or treatment of the patient. And in 60 percent of cases, physicians resolved the patient's primary problem through the telehealth consult, meaning the patient wasn't required to seek additional specialty care.

Interestingly, with the asynchronous system, PATH allows providers to store and forward patient vital signs, images and other data, meaning the physicians don't have to have direct contact to begin the consult. And with a 12-plus hour time difference, that can be a key factor, the study concludes. Median response time was a little over 14 hours, although some took up to a week.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract, courtesy of the International Council on Medical & Care Compunetics
- read this project summary (.pdf)