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Telemedicine can lower costs for health systems by $24 a patient, study finds

But it's not just about saving money; patient satisfaction rises with the use as well.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Credit: NemoursCredit: Nemours

Telemedicine is becoming increasingly popular among healthcare consumers, but a new study from Nemours Children's Health System suggests patients may not be the only ones who benefit financially: Each sports medicine-related telemedicine visit saves health systems an average of $24 per patient, researchers reported.

In a cohort study of 120 patients younger than 18 years old who had at least one telemedicine visit between Sept. 2015 and August 2016, the Nemours team compared total time of clinical visit, percentage of time spent with attending surgeon and wait time to data from in-person visits in the department. Data were collected for postoperative evaluations, surgical/imaging discussions and follow-up visits. Demographic data and diagnosis were recorded from the electronic medical record.

[Also: Almost all large employers plan to offer telehealth in 2018, but will employees use it?]

The findings support the use of telemedicine to reduce costs for both the patient and hospital system, while maintaining high levels of patient satisfaction, researchers said. After each visit, parents were asked to complete a five-item satisfaction survey. Ninety-one percent of parents found the application easy to download, 98 percent would be interested in future telemedicine visits, and 99 percent would recommend telemedicine to other families.

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Patient satisfaction has become increasingly important for hospitals and health systems. They are increasingly beholden to federal reimbursement benchmarks that gauge their quality of care, and patients now have access to Yelp and other online tools in which a hospital's performance can be reviewed and contrasted against competitors'.

[Also: CMS to address telehealth reimbursement in future behavioral health payment and delivery models]

The findings suggest telemedicine can to a long way toward keeping patients -- and their wallets -- happy. Those who use telemedicine for sports medicine appointments saved an average of $50 in travel costs and 51 minutes in waiting and visit time, according to the study.

The research, which was conducted in a pediatric sports medicine practice, also found that the percentage of time spent with the provider was significantly greater for telemedicine than for in-person visits -- 88 percent versus 15 percent of visit time.

[Also: CMS to waive restrictions to reimburse for telemedicine in the joint replacement payment model]

Authors said the study demonstrates that telemedicine can successfully be used in pediatric subspecialties to maximize healthcare resources and stretch the availability and expertise of the limited number of pediatric subspecialty providers.

Twitter: @JELagasse
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