Background and objective: Telemedicine systems offer many potential advantages for health care delivery. Most reports have centered on the delivery of primary and medical subspecialty care rather than on its impact on patient care and the potential for cost savings. In 1993, we implemented NeuroLink, a wide-area teleradiology network for delivery of specialty care in neurologic surgery at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH). This study was designed to determine the potential cost savings of such a network.
Methods: We prospectively reviewed 100 consecutive telemedicine neurosurgical consultations from 20 western Pennsylvania community hospitals participating in the NeuroLink network. Data related to referring hospital, diagnosis, disposition of the patient, and mode of transportation were reviewed. To determine the potential cost savings, the differential of hospital-based charges between AGH and western Pennsylvania primary hospitals was calculated based on an average length of stay (LOS), patient bed costs, and transportation charges.
Results: Of the 100 patients, 33 did not require transfer to a tertiary facility but were instead managed at the community hospital as a direct result of the remote diagnosis and image review disclosing that neurosurgical procedures or intensive care were not required. Cost analysis, comparing the average LOS at AGH with that of the average community hospital, including transportation, showed savings of $502,638.
Conclusion: Our neurosurgical wide-area computer network has led to more appropriate transfer of patients to a tertiary facility and significant estimated cost savings.