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British Researchers Question Cost Benefits of Telehealth

March 22, 2013
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Telehealth does not appear to be a cost-effective addition to standard support and treatment for patients with long-term conditions, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal.

For the study, a team of U.K. researchers examined the costs and cost effectiveness of telehealth compared with usual care over 12 months in 965 patients with a long-term condition (heart failure, COPD or diabetes).

The study is part of the British government’s Whole Systems Demonstrator Trial. Of the 965 patients, 534 received telehealth equipment and support, while 431 received usual care. The results took account of costs to both health and social care systems.

The cost per quality adjusted life year (QALY), a combined measure of quantity and quality of life, of telehealth when added to usual care was 92,000 pounds, or about $140,000. This is well above the cost effectiveness threshold of 30,000 pounds ($45,700) set by the U.K. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). The probability of cost effectiveness was low (11 percent).

Even when the effects of equipment price reductions and increased working capacity of services were combined, the probability that telehealth is cost effective was only about 61 percent, at a threshold of 30,000 pounds per QALY.

The authors say that the QALY gain by people using telehealth in addition to standard support and treatment was similar to those receiving usual care, and total costs for the telehealth group were higher. As such they conclude, “Telehealth does not seem to be a cost-effective addition to standard support and treatment.”

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