Emergency Department Telemedicine Shortens Rural Time-to-Provider and Emergency Department Transfer Times

From Telemedicine and e-Health:

Background: Emergency department (ED)-based telemedicine has been implemented in many rural hospitals to provide specialty care and expertise to patients with critical time-sensitive conditions.

Introduction: The purpose of this study was to measure the impact of ED-based telemedicine on timeliness of care in participating rural hospitals.

Materials and Methods: Matched cohort study of patients seen in 1 of 14 rural hospitals in a large Midwestern telemedicine network. Telemedicine cases were matched 2:1 with controls based on age, diagnosis, and hospital. The primary outcome was door-to-provider time, and secondary outcomes included ED length-of-stay (LOS) and time-to-transfer in those transferred to other hospitals.

Results: Of 127,928 qualifying ED encounters, 2,857 consulted telemedicine and were matched with nontelemedicine controls. Door-to-provider time was shorter in telemedicine patients by 6.0 min (95% confidence interval [CI] 4.3–7.8 min). The first provider seeing the patient was a telemedicine provider in 41.7% of telemedicine encounters, and in these cases, telemedicine was 14.7 min earlier than local providers. ED LOS was 22.1 min shorter (95% CI 3.1–41.2) among transferred patients, but total ED LOS was longer (40.2 min, 95% CI 30.8–49.6 min) for all telemedicine patients.

Conclusions: Telemedicine decreases ED door-to-provider time, most commonly because the telemedicine provider was the first provider seeing a patient. Among transferred patients, ED LOS at the first hospital was shorter in patients who had telemedicine consulted. Future work will focus on the clinical impact of more timely rural ED care.

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