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Review
. 2001 Sep 18;165(6):765-71.

Assessing Telemedicine: A Systematic Review of the Literature

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Free PMC article
Review

Assessing Telemedicine: A Systematic Review of the Literature

R Roine et al. CMAJ. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Background: To clarify the current status of telemedicine, we carried out a systematic review of the literature. We identified controlled assessment studies of telemedicine that reported patient outcomes, administrative changes or economic assessments and assessed the quality of that literature.

Methods: We carried out a systematic electronic search for articles published from 1966 to early 2000 using the MEDLINE (1966-April 2000), HEALTHSTAR (1975-January 2000), EMBASE (1988-February 2000) and CINALH (1982-January 2000) databases. In addition, the HSTAT database (Health Services/Technology Assessment Text, US National Library of Medicine), the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effectiveness (DARE, NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, United Kingdom), the NHS Economic Evaluation Database and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register were searched. We consulted experts in the field and did a manual search of the reference lists of review articles.

Results: A total of 1124 studies were identified. Based on a review of the abstracts, 133 full-text articles were obtained for closer inspection. Of these, 50 were deemed to represent assessment studies fulfilling the inclusion criteria of the review. Thirty-four of the articles assessed at least some clinical outcomes; the remaining 16 were mainly economic analyses. Most of the available literature referred only to pilot projects and short-term outcomes, and most of the studies were of low quality. Relatively convincing evidence of effectiveness was found only for teleradiology, teleneurosurgery, telepsychiatry, transmission of echocardiographic images, and the use of electronic referrals enabling e-mail consultations and video conferencing between primary and secondary health care providers. Economic analyses suggested that teleradiology, especially transmission of CT images, can be cost-saving.

Interpretation: Evidence regarding the effectiveness or cost-effectiveness of telemedicine is still limited. Based on current scientific evidence, only a few telemedicine applications can be recommended for broader use.

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