Telehealth's potential savings pegged at $4.3 billion

Bernie Monegain, Editor, Healthcare IT News

BOSTON - Provider-to-provider telehealth technologies could save healthcare as much as $4.28 billion year, new research shows.

The Center for Information Technology Leadership, a nonprofit research center based at Partners HealthCare System in Boston, released the findings Monday.

The annual savings would be derived from the implementation of robust telehealth systems - with a five-year rollout in emergency departments, correctional institutions, nursing homes, and physician offices nationwide, according to the report.

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CITL examined the overall value of three telehealth technology systems - store-and-forward, real-time video, and a hybrid model that combines the first two - in those four settings. It recommends the hybrid model.

By reducing face-to-face visits and redundant and unnecessary tests alone, researchers say the hybrid system can save $3.61 billion annually. With a five-year rollout nationwide, implementation reaches a break-even point in year five.


Hybrid technology integrates both store-and-forward and real-time video technologies.  As in the store-and-forward case, a primary care physician takes digital photos of a patient's rash.  The photos are forwarded to a dermatologist for review.  A "visit" is scheduled with the dermatologist located hundreds of miles away.  A live video is used during this "visit" so the dermatologist can speak the patient and examine the rash not only on the digital photos, but via the video camera as well.

"Our research findings have significant implications regarding how we can improve the delivery of healthcare in the future," says Caitlin M. Cusack, MD, CITL senior analyst, and the report's lead author. "The current system, where primary care physicians manage as much of a patient's care as possible, with specialists seen as a last resort, does not seem to be the most effective approach to care. A collaborative model, with a primary care and specialist team involved early with a patient's care, has the potential to lead to significant cost savings."

Among the benefits of telehealth, the report cites, is improved quality of care and greater access to care

"On the national level, the value of provider-to-provider telehealth technologies has broad social implications for improving access to primary and specialty medical care for all patients, but particularly for those who live in geographically underserved locations," said Blackford Middleton, MD, chairman of CITL. "With telehealth tools, providers can responsibly treat patients' health conditions before they become critical and manage chronic conditions before they lead to serious complications."

"Telehealth technology has enormous opportunity to increase quality while lowering the overall cost of care," said Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, director of the Center for Connected Health, a division of Partners HealthCare. Kvedar is a member of CITL's advisory board. "As the fees for face-to-face provider services continue to increase, the cost-benefit picture of telehealth improves - while bringing care to patients where they are and when they need it."

The report, The Value of Provider-to-Provider Telehealth Technologies, was funded by grants from the AT&T Center for Telehealth Research and Policy at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, the O'Donnell Foundation, AT&T Foundation, and the Harris and Eliza Kempner Fund.