- Telehealth for Acute and Chronic Care Consultations
- Objectives: To conduct a systematic review to identify and summarize the available evidence about the effectiveness of telehealth consultations and to explore using decision modeling techniques to supplement the review. Telehealth consultations are defined as the use of telehealth to facilitate collaboration between two or more providers, often involving a specialist, or among clinical team members, across time and/or distance. Consultations may focus on the prevention, assessment, diagnosis, and/or clinical management of acute or chronic conditions.
Data Sources. We searched Ovid MEDLINE®, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CCRCT), and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL®) to identify studies published from 1996 to May 2018. We also reviewed reference lists of identified studies and systematic reviews, and we solicited published or unpublished studies through an announcement in the Federal Register. Data for the model came both from studies identified via the systematic review and from other sources.
Methods. We included comparative studies that provided data on clinical, cost, or intermediate outcomes associated with the use of any technology to facilitate consultations for inpatient, emergency, or outpatient care. We rated studies for risk of bias and extracted information about the study design, the telehealth interventions, and results. We assessed the strength of evidence and synthesized the findings using quantitative and qualitative methods. An exploratory decision model was developed to assess the potential economic impact of telehealth consultations for traumatic brain injuries in adults.
Results. The search yielded 9,366 potentially relevant citations. Upon review, 8,356 were excluded and the full text of 1,010 articles was pulled for review. Of these, 233 articles met our criteria and were included—54 articles evaluated inpatient consultations, 73 emergency care, and 106 outpatient care.
The overall results varied by setting and clinical topic, but generally the findings are that telehealth improved outcomes or that there was no difference between telehealth and the comparators. Remote intensive care unit (ICU) consultations likely reduce ICU and total hospital mortality with no significant difference in ICU or hospital length of stay; specialty telehealth consultations likely reduce the time patients spend in the emergency department; telehealth for emergency medical services likely reduces mortality for patients with heart attacks, and remote consultations for outpatient care likely improve access and a range of clinical outcomes (moderate strength of evidence in favor of telehealth). Findings with lower confidence are that inpatient telehealth consultations may reduce length of stay and costs; telehealth consultations in emergency care may improve outcomes and reduce costs due to fewer transfers and also may reduce outpatient visits and costs due to less travel (low strength of evidence in favor of telehealth). Current evidence reports no difference in clinical outcomes with inpatient telehealth specialty consultations, no difference in mortality but also no difference in harms with telestroke consultations, and no difference in satisfaction with outpatient telehealth consultations (low strength of evidence of no difference). Too few studies reported information on potential harms from outpatient telehealth consultations for conclusions to be drawn (insufficient evidence).
An exploratory cost model underscores the importance of perspective and assumptions in using modeling to extend evidence and the need for more detailed data on costs and outcomes when telehealth is used for consultations. For example, a model comparing telehealth to transfers and in-person neurosurgical consultations for acute traumatic brain injury identified that the impact of telehealth on costs may depend on multiple factors including how alternatives are organized (e.g., if the telehealth and in-person options are part of the same health care system) and whether the cost of a telehealth versus an in-person consultation differ.
Conclusions. In general, the evidence indicates that telehealth consultations are effective in improving outcomes or providing services with no difference in outcomes; however, the evidence is stronger for some applications, and less strong or insufficient for others. Exploring the use of a cost model underscored that the economic impact of telehealth consultations depends on the perspective used in the analysis. The increase in both interest and investment in telehealth suggests the need to develop a research agenda that emphasizes rigor and focuses on standardized outcome comparisons that can inform policy and practice decisions.
- Authors of Report
- Methodology description
- The conduct of this systematic review followed the Methods Guide for Effectiveness and Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, and it is reported according to the PRISMA checklist. The scope, Key Questions, and inclusion criteria of this review were developed in consultation with a group of technical experts. Detailed methods are available in the full report and the posted protocol.
A research librarian created the search strategy and another research librarian reviewed it before searching Ovid MEDLINE®, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CCRCT), and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL®) to identify studies published from 1996 through May 2018. We also reviewed reference lists of identified studies and systematic reviews, and solicited suggestions through an announcement in the Federal Register.
We limited our study inclusion to the use of telehealth for consultations and outcomes that measure clinical and cost effectiveness. Otherwise our criteria were broad, and we included any technology and any comparative study, including before-after and retrospective as well as prospective designs, with quantitative outcomes data. Studies could compare telehealth consultations to consultations done in a different mode (e.g., in-person or telephone), no access to specialty care, or usual care which could be an unspecified mix of these options. We excluded descriptive studies, studies assessing only diagnostic concordance, studies where there was no nontelehealth comparison, and modeling studies that used hypothetical data.
Two team members independently reviewed all abstracts and two reviewers independently assessed each full-text article. Disagreements were resolved by discussion among investigators. For included articles, investigators abstracted key characteristics and data about the studies for quantitative and qualitative synthesis. We were able to conduct meta-analyses for some but not all topics and outcomes due to the heterogeneity of outcome measures, study designs, and telehealth interventions. Two investigators independently rated the risk of bias of each study using predefined criteria consistent with the chapter, “Assessing the Risk of Bias of Individual Studies When Comparing Medical Interventions” in the Methods Guide for Effectiveness and Comparative Effectiveness Reviews. Risk of bias for economic evaluations were assessed using a modified version of the Consensus Health Economic Criteria. Disagreements were resolved by consensus.
Strength of evidence was assessed for each outcome and Key Question as described in the Methods Guide for Effectiveness and Comparative Effectiveness Reviews. We assigned a strength of evidence grade of high, moderate, low, or insufficient for the body of evidence for each Key Question, based on evaluation of four domains: study limitations, consistency, directness, and precision. High, moderate, and low ratings reflect our confidence in the accuracy and validity of the findings and whether future studies might alter these findings (magnitude or direction). We gave a rating of insufficient when we were unable to draw conclusions due to serious inconsistencies, serious methodological limitations, or lack of evidence.
- DOI: https://doi.org/10.23970/AHRQEPCCER216
The data of this project was entered retrospectively by uploading data to the project from other software and file format such as Excel or Word.
Emergency Setting-Evidence Table
Inpatient Setting-Evidence Table
Outpatient Setting-Evidence Table
Risk of Bias-All study designs
- Funding Source
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Contract No. 290-2015-00009-I