Objective: We designed a telemedicine model for diagnosis of common, acute illness to compare telemedicine and in-person evaluations on reproducibility of diagnosis and treatment.
Methods: Subjects were seen by usual physicians in ambulatory settings. Subjects were also evaluated separately by experienced general pediatricians (study physicians), either in person or via telemedicine, based on random assignment. The primary measure of reproducibility was study physician agreement with usual physician on primary diagnosis. Analysis compared reproducibility for telemedicine versus in-person evaluations. Relevance of agreement on primary diagnosis was measured by comparing agreement on prescribed medications.
Results: Agreement on diagnosis of study physicians with usual physicians for the 492 visits studied was 89%. The difference in the proportion of visits with disagreements between telemedicine study and in-person study evaluations (13.8% vs 8.3%, respectively) bordered on significance (P = .051). Disagreement proportions for prescriptions were similar (32.2% vs 27.4%), however. Telemedicine evaluation for children with upper respiratory tract (URI)-ear symptoms involved unique technical requirements and clinical judgments. For this largest subgroup of 202 visits, disagreement on diagnosis for telemedicine occurred more often than for in-person evaluation (17.6 vs 6.3%, P < .02). For the remaining 290 visits, telemedicine and in-person study physicians disagreed on diagnosis about equally (11.5 vs 9.9%).
Conclusions: Excluding the URI-ear group, reproducibility of telemedicine diagnosis did not differ from that of in-person diagnosis. For the URI-ear group, reproducibility of diagnosis by telemedicine and in-person evaluation varied significantly.