The use of telemedicine to treat patients at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Vermont helped the Department of Veterans Affairs save, on average, $18,500 a year in travel pay between 2005 and 2013, according to research published in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health.
The Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system provides beneficiary travel reimbursement (travel pay) to qualifying patients for traveling to appointments. Travel pay is a large expense for the VA and is projected to cost nearly $1 billion in 2015, according to the study.
The authors of the study, sought to examine the potential of telemedicine in the VA system to save money by reducing patient travel and thus the amount of travel pay disbursed. The study authors quantified this savings in the study and also report on trends in VA telemedicine volumes over time.
The study was led by Ryan McCool, M.D., from the section of otolaryngology, department of surgery, department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont and also from the section of otolaryngology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire. Other authors involved in the study include Jack Russo, M.D., of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire and Louise Davies, M.D., from all three of those institutions as well as the VA Outcomes Group, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction and the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Hanover, New Hampshire.
The researchers studies all telemedicine visits based at the VA Hospital in White River Junction, Vermont between 2005 and 2013, which represented 5,695 visits, according to the study. The researchers then calculated travel distance and time saved as a result of telemedicine.
The use of telemedicine resulted in an average travel savings of 145 miles and 142 minutes per patient visit, the study authors found, which resulted in an average travel payment savings of $18,555 per year.
Telemedicine volume grew significantly between 2005 and 2013 such that by the final year the travel pay savings had increased to $63,804, or about 3.5 percent of the total travel pay disbursement for that year, the study authors wrote.
The researchers also noted that the number of mental health telemedicine visits rose over the study period but remained small relative to the number of face-to-face visits. And, a higher proportion of telemedicine visits involved new patients.
“Telemedicine at the VA saves travel distance and time, although the reduction in travel payments remains modest at current telemedicine volumes,” the study authors concluded.