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Evaluating Telemedicine Research

By January 8, 2010Commentary

The unholy triumvirate of health care problems is access, quality and cost.  Many health care innovations are based upon a capability to provide a solution to one of more of these major problem areas.  Telemedicine, telehealth, ehealth, mhealth and similar approaches are aimed at using modern communication and data collection, transmission and analysis technologies to address these fundamental issues.  At some point, policymakers, payers and other affected parties will ask for some objective verification of value, preferably through rigorous research.  An article sets out some parameters for obtaining high-quality research results in the telemedicine field.  (Telemedicine Article)

The authors begin by noting that a lack of good research findings, particularly economic or cost-benefit analyses, can stymie the spread the innovations like telemedicine by making it harder to obtain reimbursement or support from policymakers.  They observe that there are aspects of telemedicine which make it difficult to conduct such economic studies, which should cover costs and benefits to a variety of affected parties and assign monetary values to health outcomes and other effects.  The authors then recommend guidelines for full benefit-cost analyses of telemedicine programs and suggest specific areas for further research.

As the authors suggest, it would be particularly useful to estimate the benefits and costs of telemedicine from the patient’s perspective in terms of transportation issues, travel time, leisure time, productivity and quality of life; and from the provider’s perspective in terms of impacts on their practice and staff.  It is intuitive that telemedicine has great potential to assist in solving key health care issues; good quality research to validate that potential should help remove reimbursement and other barriers to its spread.

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