One way to tackle health inequalities in resource-poor settings is to establish links between doctors and health professionals there and specialists elsewhere using web-based telemedicine. One such system run by the Swinfen Charitable Trust has been in existence for 13 years which is an unusually long time for such systems.
We wanted to gain some insights into whether and how this system might be improved.
We carried out a survey by questionnaire of referrers and specialists over a six months period.
During the study period, a total of 111 cases were referred from 35 different practitioners, of whom 24% were not doctors. Survey replies were received concerning 67 cases, a response rate of 61 per cent. Eighty-seven per cent of the responding referrers found the telemedicine advice useful, and 78% were able to follow the advice provided. As a result of the advice received, the diagnosis was changed in 22% of all cases and confirmed in a further 18 per cent. Patient management was changed in 33 per cent. There was no substantial difference between doctors and non-doctors. During the study period, the 111 cases were responded to by 148 specialists, from whom 108 replies to the questionnaire were received, a response rate of 73 per cent. About half of the specialists (47%) felt that their advice had improved the management of the patients. There were 62 cases where it was possible to match up the opinions of the referrer and the consultants about the value of a specific teleconsultation. In 34 cases (55%) the referrers and specialists agreed about the value. However, in 28 cases (45%) they did not: specialists markedly underestimated the value of a consultation compared to referrers. Both referrers and specialist were extremely positive about the system which appears to be working well. Minor changes such as a clearer referral template and an improved web interface for specialists may improve it.
telemedicine; web; satisfaction; developing world
A simple, generalizable method for measuring research output would be useful in attempts to build research capacity, and in other contexts.
A simple indicator of individual research output was developed, based on grant income, publications and numbers of PhD students supervised. The feasibility and utility of the indicator was examined by using it to calculate research output from two similarly-sized research groups in different countries. The same indicator can be used to assess the balance in the research “portfolio” of an individual researcher.
Research output scores of 41 staff in Research Department A had a wide range, from zero to 8; the distribution of these scores was highly skewed. Only about 20% of the researchers had well-balanced research outputs, with approximately equal contributions from grants, papers and supervision. Over a five-year period, Department A's total research output rose, while the number of research staff decreased slightly, in other words research productivity (output per head) rose. Total research output from Research Department B, of approximately the same size as A, was similar, but slightly higher than Department A.
The proposed indicator is feasible. The output score is dimensionless and can be used for comparisons within and between countries. Modeling can be used to explore the effect on research output of changing the size and composition of a research department. A sensitivity analysis shows that small increases in individual productivity result in relatively greater increases in overall departmental research output. The indicator appears to be potentially useful for capacity building, once the initial step of research priority setting has been completed.
Research productivity; Research output; Capacity building
Since 2000, the Centre for Online Health (COH) at The University of Queensland has offered a range of online eHealth courses at the undergraduate and postgraduate level. While online learning has a number of advantages, in some domains, it can present some challenges to the development of practical skills and experience.
To assess students’ perceptions of the value of an eHealth practicum.
To supplement our online learning program, we introduced an eHealth practicum component that aimed to expose students to a range of clinically relevant learning experiences. Subsequently, by means of a questionnaire, student perceptions of the practicum were assessed.
Over two semesters, a total of 66 students participated in the eHealth practicum, and questionnaire responses were very positive. The majority of students agreed that the practicum allowed them to gain necessary skills in eHealth applications (59%) and provided them with an opportunity to explore ways of using different eHealth tools for the delivery of health care at a distance (62%).
The study shows that a practical component in eHealth teaching was well received by students. While online teaching is appropriate for providing knowledge, the opportunity to develop practical skills may encourage students to use eHealth techniques in their future practices.
Telemedicine; Remote consultation; Education and training; curriculum
Telemedicine networks, which deliver humanitarian services, sometimes need to share expertise to find particular experts in other networks. It has been suggested that a mechanism for sharing expertise between networks (a ‘clearing house’) might be useful.
To propose a mechanism for implementing the clearing house concept for sharing expertise, and to confirm its feasibility in terms of acceptability to the relevant networks.
We conducted a needs analysis among eight telemedicine networks delivering humanitarian services. A small proportion of consultations (5–10%) suggested that networks may experience difficulties in finding the right specialists from within their own resources. With the assistance of key stakeholders, many of whom were network coordinators, various methods of implementing a clearing house were considered. One simple solution is to establish a central database holding information about consultants who have agreed to provide help to other networks; this database could be made available to network coordinators who need a specialist when none was available in their own network.
The proposed solution was examined in a desktop simulation exercise, which confirmed its feasibility and probable value.
This analysis informs full-scale implementation of a clearing house, and an associated examination of its costs and benefits.
access; telemedicine; developing countries; network collaboration; humanitarian services
A literature review was conducted to obtain a high-level view of the value of telemedicine in the management of five common chronic diseases (asthma, COPD, diabetes, heart failure, hypertension). A total of 141 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) was identified, in which 148 telemedicine interventions of various kinds had been tested in a total of 37,695 patients. The value of each intervention was categorised in terms of the outcomes specified by the investigators in that trial, i.e. no attempt was made to extract a common outcome from all studies, as would be required for a conventional meta-analysis. Summarizing the value of these interventions shows, first, that most studies have reported positive effects (n = 108), and almost none have reported negative effects (n = 2). This suggests publication bias. Second, there were no significant differences between the chronic diseases, i.e. telemedicine seems equally effective (or ineffective) in the diseases studied. Third, most studies have been relatively short-term (median duration 6 months). It seems unlikely that in a chronic disease, any intervention can have much effect unless applied for a long period. Finally, there have been very few studies of cost-effectiveness. Thus the evidence base for the value of telemedicine in managing chronic diseases is on the whole weak and contradictory.
Comprehensive geriatric assessment has been shown to improve patient outcomes, but the geriatricians who deliver it are in short-supply. A web-based method of comprehensive geriatric assessment has been developed with the potential to improve access to specialist geriatric expertise. The current study aims to test the reliability and safety of comprehensive geriatric assessment performed "online" in making geriatric triage decisions. It will also explore the accuracy of the procedure in identifying common geriatric syndromes, and its cost relative to conventional "live" consultations.
The study population will consist of 270 acutely hospitalized patients referred for geriatric consultation at three sites. Paired assessments (live and online) will be conducted by independent, blinded geriatricians and the level of agreement examined. This will be compared with the level of agreement between two independent, blinded geriatricians each consulting with the patient in person (i.e. "live"). Agreement between the triage decision from live-live assessments and between the triage decision from live-online assessments will be calculated using kappa statistics. Agreement between the online and live detection of common geriatric syndromes will also be assessed using kappa statistics. Resource use data will be collected for online and live-live assessments to allow comparison between the two procedures.
If the online approach is found to be less precise than live assessment, further analysis will seek to identify patient subgroups where disagreement is more likely. This may enable a protocol to be developed that avoids unsafe clinical decisions at a distance.
Trial registration number: ACTRN12611000936921
Today there is much debate about why telemedicine has stalled. Teleradiology is the only widespread telemedicine application. Other telemedicine applications appear to be promising candidates for widespread use, but they remain in the early adoption stage. The objective of this debate paper is to achieve a better understanding of the adoption of telemedicine, to assist those trying to move applications from pilot stage to routine delivery.
We have investigated the reasons why telemedicine has stalled by focusing on two, high-level topics: 1) the process of adoption of telemedicine in comparison with other technologies; and 2) the factors involved in the widespread adoption of telemedicine. For each topic, we have formulated hypotheses. First, the advantages for users are the crucial determinant of the speed of adoption of technology in healthcare. Second, the adoption of telemedicine is similar to that of other health technologies and follows an S-shaped logistic growth curve. Third, evidence of cost-effectiveness is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the widespread adoption of telemedicine. Fourth, personal incentives for the health professionals involved in service provision are needed before the widespread adoption of telemedicine will occur.
The widespread adoption of telemedicine is a major -- and still underdeveloped -- challenge that needs to be strengthened through new research directions. We have formulated four hypotheses, which are all susceptible to experimental verification. In particular, we believe that data about the adoption of telemedicine should be collected from applications implemented on a large-scale, to test the assumption that the adoption of telemedicine follows an S-shaped growth curve. This will lead to a better understanding of the process, which will in turn accelerate the adoption of new telemedicine applications in future. Research is also required to identify suitable financial and professional incentives for potential telemedicine users and understand their importance for widespread adoption.
Telemedicine has been used for many years to support doctors in the developing world. Several networks provide services in different settings and in different ways. However, to draw conclusions about which telemedicine networks are successful requires a method of evaluating them. No general consensus or validated framework exists for this purpose.
To define a basic method of performance measurement that can be used to improve and compare teleconsultation networks; to employ the proposed framework in an evaluation of three existing networks; to make recommendations about the future implementation and follow-up of such networks.
Analysis based on the experience of three telemedicine networks (in operation for 7–10 years) that provide services to doctors in low-resource settings and which employ the same basic design.
Although there are many possible indicators and metrics that might be relevant, five measures for each of the three user groups appear to be sufficient for the proposed framework. In addition, from the societal perspective, information about clinical- and cost-effectiveness is also required. The proposed performance measurement framework was applied to three mature telemedicine networks. Despite their differences in terms of activity, size and objectives, their performance in certain respects is very similar. For example, the time to first reply from an expert is about 24 hours for each network. Although all three networks had systems in place to collect data from the user perspective, none of them collected information about the coordinator's time required or about ease of system usage. They had only limited information about quality and cost.
Measuring the performance of a telemedicine network is essential in understanding whether the network is working as intended and what effect it is having. Based on long-term field experience, the suggested framework is a practical tool that will permit organisations to assess the performance of their own networks and to improve them by comparison with others. All telemedicine systems should provide information about setup and running costs because cost-effectiveness is crucial for sustainability.
telemedicine; telehealth; developing countries; performance evaluation
A major benefit offered by telemedicine is the avoidance of travel, by patients, their carers and health care professionals. Unfortunately, there is very little published information about the extent of avoided travel. We propose to undertake a systematic review of literature which reports credible data on the reductions in travel associated with the use of telemedicine.
The conventional approach to quantitative synthesis of the results from multiple studies is to conduct a meta analysis. However, too much heterogeneity exists between available studies to allow a meaningful meta analysis of the avoided travel when telemedicine is used across all possible settings. We propose instead to consider all credible evidence on avoided travel through telemedicine by fitting a linear model which takes into account the relevant factors in the circumstances of the studies performed. We propose the use of stepwise multiple regression to identify which factors are significant.
Our proposed approach is illustrated by the example of teledermatology. In a preliminary review of the literature we found 20 studies in which the percentage of avoided travel through telemedicine could be inferred (a total of 5199 patients). The mean percentage avoided travel reported in the 12 store-and-forward studies was 43%. In the 7 real-time studies and in a single study with a hybrid technique, 70% of the patients avoided travel. A simplified model based on the modality of telemedicine employed (i.e. real-time or store and forward) explained 29% of the variance. The use of store and forward teledermatology alone was associated with 43% of avoided travel. The increase in the proportion of patients who avoided travel (25%) when real-time telemedicine was employed was significant (P = 0.014). Service planners can use this information to weigh up the costs and benefits of the two approaches.
Detailed information about the composition of the carbon footprint of the NHS in the Grampian health region, and in Scotland generally, is not available at present. Based on the limited information available, our best guess is that travel emissions in Grampian are substantial, perhaps 49,000 tonnes CO2 per year. This is equivalent to 233 million km of car travel per year. A well-established telemedicine network in the Grampian region, which saves over 2000 patient journeys a year from community hospitals, avoids about 260,000 km travel per year, or about 59 tonnes CO2 per year. Therefore using telehealth as it has been used historically (primarily to facilitate hospital-to-hospital interactions) seems unlikely to have a major environmental impact – although of course there may be other good reasons for persevering with conventional telehealth. On the other hand, telehealth might be useful in reducing staff travel and to a lesser extent, visitor travel. It looks particularly promising for reducing outpatient travel, where substantial carbon savings might be made by reconfiguring the way that certain services are provided.
An estimated 285 million people worldwide have diabetes and its prevalence is predicted to increase to 439 million by 2030. For the year 2010, it is estimated that 3.96 million excess deaths in the age group 20-79 years are attributable to diabetes around the world. Self-management is recognised as an integral part of diabetes care. This paper describes the protocol of a randomised controlled trial of an automated interactive telephone system aiming to improve the uptake and maintenance of essential diabetes self-management behaviours.
A total of 340 individuals with type 2 diabetes will be randomised, either to the routine care arm, or to the intervention arm in which participants receive the Telephone-Linked Care (TLC) Diabetes program in addition to their routine care. The intervention requires the participants to telephone the TLC Diabetes phone system weekly for 6 months. They receive the study handbook and a glucose meter linked to a data uploading device. The TLC system consists of a computer with software designed to provide monitoring, tailored feedback and education on key aspects of diabetes self-management, based on answers voiced or entered during the current or previous conversations. Data collection is conducted at baseline (Time 1), 6-month follow-up (Time 2), and 12-month follow-up (Time 3). The primary outcomes are glycaemic control (HbA1c) and quality of life (Short Form-36 Health Survey version 2). Secondary outcomes include anthropometric measures, blood pressure, blood lipid profile, psychosocial measures as well as measures of diet, physical activity, blood glucose monitoring, foot care and medication taking. Information on utilisation of healthcare services including hospital admissions, medication use and costs is collected. An economic evaluation is also planned.
Outcomes will provide evidence concerning the efficacy of a telephone-linked care intervention for self-management of diabetes. Furthermore, the study will provide insight into the potential for more widespread uptake of automated telehealth interventions, globally.
Trial Registration Number
To review papers reporting actual experience with telemedicine in developing countries and to summarize their findings, including the strength of the evidence.
A retrospective review was conducted. Study quality was assessed.
Four commonly-used electronic databases.
Main outcome measures
Study quality scores.
From a total of 202 potential articles, 38 relevant papers were identified. Thirty-four articles (89%) reported clinical experience and 14 articles (37%) reported the use of telemedicine for educational purposes. The quality of the reports was rather weak (median quality-score 3, on a scale 0–9); only one study, rated at 7, fell into the high quality score band. The fact that almost all studies reported positively in favour of telemedicine suggests a publication bias. Of the 38 articles, 15 (39%) reported the use of real-time telemedicine and 25 (66%) reported the use of asynchronous, or store-and-forward, telemedicine. Email was the most commonly reported modality (half of all studies).
Some of the longer established telemedicine operations have developed into substantial networks. The review suggests that great potential exists for telemedicine in the developing world. However, some caution is required in future telemedicine work if telemedicine exemplars are to be produced which can be widely copied.
Paediatric ENT services in regional areas can be provided through telemedicine (tele-ENT) using videoconferencing or with a conventional outpatient department ENT service (OPD-ENT) in which patients travel to see the specialist. The objective of this study was to identify the least-cost approach to providing ENT services for paediatric outpatients.
A cost-minimisation analysis was conducted comparing the annual costs of the two modes of service provided by the Royal Children's Hospital (RCH) in Brisbane. Activity records were reviewed to analyse volume of activity during a 12 month period in 2005, i.e. number of clinics, duration of clinics, number of consultations via telemedicine and in outpatient clinics, diagnoses, and travel related information. A sensitivity analysis was conducted using factors where there was some uncertainty or potential future variation.
During the study period, 88 ENT consultations were conducted via videoconference for 70 patients at Bundaberg Base Hospital. 177 ENT consultations were conducted at the RCH for 117 patients who had travelled from the Bundaberg region to Brisbane. The variable cost of providing the tele-ENT service was A$108 per consultation, compared with A$155 per consultation for the conventional outpatient service. Telemedicine was cheaper when the workload exceeded 100 consultations per year. If all 265 consultations were conducted as tele-ENT consultations, the cost-savings would be $7,621.
The cost-minimisation analysis demonstrated that under the circumstances described in this paper, the tele-ENT service was a more economical method for the health department of providing specialist ENT services.
Since 1999, the Swinfen Charitable Trust has operated an email referral system between doctors in the developing world and specialists in the industrialized world. Since 2001, it has expanded its operation into the Middle East, in particular Iraq, an area of considerable conflict.
The aim was to compare referral patterns to the Trust from the Middle East with those received from the rest of the developing world and to look for qualitative evidence of health gain.
We analyzed referrals to the Swinfen Charitable Trust between July 2004 and June 2007 and compared these by speciality with those received from elsewhere during the same 3-year period. We asked two referring doctors for their views of the process, and we analyzed the total Middle Eastern referrals made to a single specialty (neurology).
Between July 2004 and June 2007, 283 referrals were received from four countries in the Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait) and 500 cases were received from 22 other countries. The 283 cases resulted in 522 separate queries to specialists. The median time to specialist reply for the queries relating to the 283 Middle Eastern cases was 24.3 hours (interquartile range 6.1-63.3). There was a significant difference in case mix between the Middle East and the rest of the world (P < .001), with more obstetric referrals and fewer referrals in medical specialties and radiology. The referring doctors were helped greatly by the service. The neurologist was confident of the diagnosis in 20 of 26 referrals received (77%). Both referring doctors and the specialist were able to cite referred cases where management was improved as a result of the service.
Email telemedicine can be used in areas of conflict such as the Middle East. Perhaps surprisingly, trauma referrals are not increased but obstetric referrals are. Supporting individual doctor-patient encounters in this way is therefore often beneficial and is easily expandable. As well as improving care for individuals, email telemedicine provides effective case-based learning for local doctors, leading to improved care for subsequent similar patients.
Telemedicine; electronic mail; developing countries; Middle East
Providing ongoing family centred support is an integral part of childhood cancer care. For families living in regional and remote areas, opportunities to receive specialist support are limited by the availability of health care professionals and accessibility, which is often reduced due to distance, time, cost and transport. The primary aim of this work is to investigate the cost-effectiveness of videotelephony to support regional and remote families returning home for the first time with a child newly diagnosed with cancer
We will recruit 162 paediatric oncology patients and their families to a single centre randomised controlled trial. Patients from regional and remote areas, classified by Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA+) greater than 0.2, will be randomised to a videotelephone support intervention or a usual support control group. Metropolitan families (ARIA+ ≤ 0.2) will be recruited as an additional usual support control group. Families allocated to the videotelephone support intervention will have access to usual support plus education, communication, counselling and monitoring with specialist multidisciplinary team members via a videotelephone service for a 12-week period following first discharge home. Families in the usual support control group will receive standard care i.e., specialist multidisciplinary team members provide support either face-to-face during inpatient stays, outpatient clinic visits or home visits, or via telephone for families who live far away from the hospital. The primary outcome measure is parental health related quality of life as measured using the Medical Outcome Survey (MOS) Short Form SF-12 measured at baseline, 4 weeks, 8 weeks and 12 weeks. The secondary outcome measures are: parental informational and emotional support; parental perceived stress, parent reported patient quality of life and parent reported sibling quality of life, parental satisfaction with care, cost of providing improved support, health care utilisation and financial burden for families.
This investigation will establish the feasibility, acceptability and cost-effectiveness of using videotelephony to improve the clinical and psychosocial support provided to regional and remote paediatric oncology patients and their families.
There are few cost-minimisation studies in telemedicine. We have compared the actual costs of providing a telepaediatric service to the potential costs if patients had travelled to see the specialist in person.
In November 2000, we established a novel telepaediatric service for selected regional hospitals in Queensland. Instead of transferring patients to Brisbane, the majority of referrals to specialists in Brisbane were dealt with via videoconference. Since the service began, 1499 consultations have been conducted for a broad range of paediatric sub-specialities including burns, cardiology, child development, dermatology, diabetes, endocrinology, gastroenterology, nephrology, neurology, oncology, orthopaedics, paediatric surgery and psychiatry.
During a five year period, the total cost of providing 1499 consultations through the telepaediatric service was A$955,996. The estimated potential cost of providing an outpatient service to the same number of patients at the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane was A$1,553,264; thus, telepaediatric services resulted in a net saving of approximately A$600,000 to the health service provider.
Telepaediatrics was a cheaper method for the delivery of outpatient services when the workload exceeded 774 consultations. A sensitivity analysis showed that the threshold point was most sensitive to changes related to patient travel costs, coordinator salaries and videoconference equipment costs. The study showed substantial savings for the health department, mainly due to reduced costs associated with patient travel.
A quantitative understanding of airway sizes and proportions and a reference point for comparisons are important to a pediatric bronchoscopist. The aims of this study were to measure large airway areas, and define proportions and factors that influence airway size in children.
A validated videobronchoscope technique was used to measure in-vivo airway cross-sectional areas (cricoid, right (RMS) and left (LMS) main stem and major lobar bronchi) of 125 children. Airway proportions were calculated as ratios of airways to cricoid areas and to endotracheal tube (ETT) areas. Mann Whitney U, T-tests, and one-way ANOVA were used for comparisons and standard univariate and backwards, stepwise multivariate regression analyses were used to define factors that influence airway size.
Airways size increased progressively with increasing age but proportions remained constant. The LMS was 21% smaller than the RMS. Gender differences in airways' size were not significant in any age group or airway site. Cricoid area related best to body length (BL): cricoid area (mm2) = 26.782 + 0.254* BL (cm) while the RMS and LMS area related best to weight: RMS area (mm2) = 23.938 + 0.394*Wt (kg) and LMS area (mm2) = 20.055 + 0.263*Wt (kg) respectively. Airways to cricoid ratios were larger than airway to ETT ratios (p = 0.0001).
The large airways progressively increase in cross sectional area size, maintain constant proportional relationships to the cricoid and are gender independent across childhood. Anthropometric factors (body length and weight) are significantly related to but only have weakly predictive influences on major airway size. The cricoid is the most suitable comparator for other airway site measurements. These data provide for quantitative comparisons of airway lesions.
Patients failing to attend hospital appointments contribute to inefficient use of resources. We conducted a systematic review of studies providing a reminder to patients by phone, short message service (SMS) or automated phone calls. A PubMed search was conducted to identify articles published after 1999, describing studies of non-attendance at hospital appointments. In addition, we searched the references in the included papers. In total, 29 studies were included in the review. Four had two intervention arms which were treated as independent studies, giving a total of 33 estimates. The papers were analysed by two observers independently. A study quality score was developed and used to weight the data. Weighted means of the absolute and the relative changes in non-attendance were calculated. All studies except one reported a benefit from sending reminders to patients prior to their appointment. The synthesis suggests that the weighted mean relative change in non-attendance was 34% of the baseline non-attendance rate. Automated reminders were less effective than manual phone calls (29% vs 39% of baseline value). There appeared to be no difference in non-attendance rate, whether the reminder was sent the day before the appointment or the week before. Cost and savings were not measured formally in any of the papers, but almost half of them included cost estimates. The average cost of using either SMS, automated phone calls or phone calls was €0.41 per reminder. Although formal evidence of cost-effectiveness is lacking, the implication of the review is that all hospitals should consider using automated reminders to reduce non-attendance at appointments.