New evidence suggest telehealth can be highly effective in treating patients with a range of medical conditions, according to findings from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Combing through 58 systematic reviews that met the group's inclusion criteria, AHRQ found a substantial volume of research indicating that telehealth interventions work when used for remote patient monitoring, broadly defined, for several chronic conditions and for psychotherapy as part of behavioral health.
This benefit has been reported most consistently when telehealth is used for communication and counseling, or for the remote monitoring of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease. The data suggests it improves outcomes such as mortality, quality of life and reductions in hospital admissions.
Telehealth includes a wide range of technologies; for the purposes of this study, it was defined as the use of information and telecommunications technology in a specific patient's healthcare delivery from a provider across distance or time.
The study's authors said research into practice-level implementation should be the next step, particularly since the vast majority of research conducted to date has been under old -- and possibly soon-to-be-outdated -- care delivery models. Topics with an evidence base that could be the focus of future systematic reviews include telehealth for consultation, uses in intensive care units and applications in maternal and child health.
There were also topics with a limited evidence base that the authors said could benefit from additional primary research. Telehealth for triage in urgent or primary care, management of serious pediatric conditions, patient outcomes for teledermatology, and the intgration of behavioral and physical health were earmarked by AHRQ as ripe for analysis.
Meanwhile, information is limited on how telehealth affects cost and utilization. Thirteen percent of the reviews considered by AHRQ in its report indicate that telehealth provides a benefit in terms of reduced costs and utilization; 34 percent say there is a potential benefit; 31 percent were inconclusive; and 22 percent found no benefit.