Nemours finds that pediatric telemedicine saved money and time for patients, health system

By Jonah Comstock

A new study of 120 sports medicine patients shows that telemedicine saved patients an average of $50 in travel costs and 51 minutes in waiting and visit time, and saved a health system $24 per patient.

The study, which has not yet been published, was presented last week at American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition. It was conducted by Nemours Health System.

"We know that telemedicine is often looked to for common childhood ailments, like cold and flu, or skin rashes. But we wanted to look at how telemedicine could benefit patients within a particular specialty such as sports medicine," Dr. Alfred Atanda Jr., author of the study and an an orthopedic surgeon at the Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, said in a statement. "As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve and the emphasis on value and satisfaction continues to grow, telemedicine may be utilized by providers as a mechanism to keep costs and resource utilization low, and to comply with payor requirements.”

The study looked at a cohort of 120 patients aged 17 years and under who had at least one visit via telemedicine between September 2015 and August 2016. They compared total visit time, percentage of time spent with the attending surgeon, and wait time to corresponding in-person visits. The study also looked at data from a five-item satisfaction survey parents were asked to complete at the conclusion of a telehealth visit.

The $50 in travel costs was determined by calculating the cost of 85 miles of driving, which the researchers found parents were avoiding on average by using telemedicine. They also found that telemedicine patients spent 88 percent of their visit time with the surgeon, compared to 15 percent of their in-person visits.

Satisfaction reports were overwhelmingly posiitive, with 91 percent of parents saying the telemedicine application was easy to download, 98 percent expressing interest in future telemedicine visits, and 99 percent saying they would recommend telemedicine to other families.

While telemedicine continues to grow in popularity, the benefits (or lack thereof) are not universally agreed upon. Just this year a number of studies have found different conclusions about telemedicine’s effectiveness. In March, a widely circulated Health Affairs study showed that Teladoc visits for one major payer actually increased utilization and therefore costs. But a UC Davis study that same month found that telemedicine created savings in a number of areas, including transport costs. In August, a study from the University of Wisconsin produced similar findings to the Health Affairs study.