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J Telemed Telecare. 2002;8 Suppl 1:1-30.

Systematic review of evidence for the benefits of telemedicine.

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Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, Edmonton, Canada.


A systematic review of telemedicine assessments based on searches of electronic databases between 1966 and December 2000 identified 66 scientifically credible studies that included comparison with a non-telemedicine alternative and that reported administrative changes, patient outcomes, or results of economic assessment. Thirty-seven of the studies (56%) suggested that telemedicine had advantages over the alternative approach, 24 (36%) also drew attention to some negative aspects or were unclear whether telemedicine had advantages and five (8%) found that the alternative approach had advantages over telemedicine. The most convincing evidence on the efficacy and effectiveness of telemedicine was given by some of the studies on teleradiology (especially neurosurgical applications), telemental health, transmission of echocardiographic images, teledermatology, home telecare and on some medical consultations. However, even in these applications, most of the available literature referred only to pilot projects and to short-term outcomes. Few papers considered the long-term or routine use of telemedicine. For several applications, including teleradiology, savings and sometimes clinical benefit were obtained through avoidance of travel and associated delays. Studies of home care and monitoring applications showed convincing evidence of benefit, while those on teledermatology indicated that there were cost disadvantages to health-care providers, although not to patients. Forty-four of the studies (67%) appeared to have potential to influence future decisions on the telemedicine application under consideration. However, a number of these had methodological limitations. Although useful clinical and economic outcomes data have been obtained for some telemedicine applications, good-quality studies are still scarce and the generalizability of most assessment findings is rather limited.

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