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Patients suffering from debilitating illnesses often experience financial hardships at a time when stress management is essential for successful recovery. While the overall cost-savings of telehealth was established decades ago, current refinements of that research are shedding light on the specifics of cost savings with people diagnosed with a particular disorder. Since COVID, an increasing amount of funding has been available from federal and other sources to identify the areas of greatest success with telehealth.
A January 10, 2023 journal article about the cost savings of using telehealth with non-elderly cancer patients was reported in the JAMA Open Network. Researchers Patel, Turner, Tabriz and colleagues conducted a cost-evaluation of telehealth with 11,688 patients between 18- 65 years old. These patients received a total of 25, 496 telehealth visits at a National Cancer Institute–Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Florida from April 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021. Patient travel, time, and cost savings associated with telehealth for cancer care delivery were examined.
Discussion of Telehealth Cost Savings
Telehealth was associated with an estimated $1,170,160 savings in lost productivity (income) due to driving time, $467,247 savings in lost productivity due to visit time, and $1,637,407 total savings in lost productivity. More specifically, telehealth was associated with a total savings of:
- Travel miles. The researchers reported a savings of 3,789, 963 roundtrip travel miles (equates to traveling 152.2 times around the earth),
- Drive Hours. A savings of 75,055 roundtrip drive hours, (equates to 8.6 calendar years).
They also calculated a telehealth cost savings of 3.4 calendar years (29,626 hours) in clinic visits by using telehealth. Those hours are differentiated as delineated below per visit:
- Lost productivity. A loss of work productivity per visit due to driving time ranged from $44.1 to $54.1. A mean savings in lost productivity per visit due to visit time ranged from $17.3 to $23.1.
- Total savings. A mean total savings in lost productivity per visit ranged from $61.4 to $77.2.
- Driving costs. Mean driving cost savings per telehealth visits ranged from $79.71 to $146.0 depending on visit type and model used.
As a key determinant of health care, transportation has been identified as an important yet often disregarded source of out-of-pocket nonmedical costs for patients receiving cancer care. Patients without needed transportation are more likely to miss appointments, which can result in an increase of emergency department care. Parking costs are also a factor, but difficult to qualify, as they can vary from one facility to another.
Given the recent decrease in the number of rural hospitals over the last decade, with almost double the number of people living outside a 60-minute radius of major hospitals, resulting in longer drive times to receive care. Telehealth then can be particularly beneficial among rural patients, with a mean total cost savings per visit ranging from $141.1 to $222.8 per visit as calculated by these researchers.
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