Purpose: Telemedicine provides patients with easy and remote access to consultant expertise irrespective of geographic location. In a randomized controlled trial, this study has applied a rigorous costing methodology to the use of telemedicine in chronic pain management.
Methods: We performed a randomized two-period crossover trial comparing in-person (IP) consultation with telemedicine (TM) consultation in the management of chronic pain. Over an 18-month period, 26 patients each completed two diaries capturing their direct and indirect travel costs, daily pain scores, and satisfaction with physician consultation. Costing models were developed to account for direct, indirect, fixed, and variable costs in order to perform break-even analyses. Sensitivity analysis was performed over a broad range of assumptions.
Results: Direct patient costs were significantly lower in the TM group than in the IP group, with median cost and interquartile range 133 dollars (28-377) vs 443 dollars (292-1075), respectively (P = 0.001). More patients were highly satisfied with the TM consultation than with the IP consultation (56 and 24%, respectively; P < 0.05). Break-even annual patient volume was estimated at 57 patients. A two-way sensitivity analysis controlling for annual patient volume and round-trip distance indicated that TM remains cost-effective at volumes >50 patients/year or at round-trip distances >200 km.
Conclusion: Telemedicine is cost-effective over a broad range of assumptions, including annual patient volumes, travel distance, fuel costs, amortization, and discount rates. This study provides data from a real-world setting to determine relevant thresholds and targets for establishing a TM program for patients who are undergoing chronic pain therapy.