Patients at rural hospitals with telemedicine services see a healthcare provider six minutes more quickly than patients in hospitals that have no such technology, according to a new study from University of Iowa researchers.
The research team measured the impact of emergency room telemedicine services on timeliness of care in rural hospitals. The study looked at data collected from 14 hospitals in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota that subscribe to telemedicine services from a single ER telemedicine provider located in Sioux Falls, SD. The team matched 2,857 emergency department cases that used telemedicine services with non-telemedicine controls.
The results, published recently in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health, showed that telemedicine decreased door-to-provider time by six minutes. This provider could be either a local provider physically assessing the patient or a telemedicine provider—whoever was available first. The first provider seeing the patient was a telemedicine provider in 41.7% of telemedicine encounters, and in these cases, telemedicine was 14.7 minutes earlier than local providers.
The researchers also noted that among patients who were transferred to other hospitals, the length-of-stay at the ER in the first hospital was shorter for patients who had telemedicine consults. The authors suggest that this reduced time may be due to remotely located staff completing administrative and charting tasks, allowing local staff to concentrate on patient care.
The findings are important because many small, rural, financially-challenged hospitals are having a difficult time maintaining emergency departments that offer high quality care. Some are turning to telemedicine ERs to provide access to emergency medicine specialists in larger hospitals in larger cities, allowing healthcare providers to examine patients using technology.