Objective: To conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis of telestroke--a 2-way, audiovisual technology that links stroke specialists to remote emergency department physicians and their stroke patients--compared to usual care (i.e., remote emergency departments without telestroke consultation or stroke experts).
Methods: A decision-analytic model was developed for both 90-day and lifetime horizons. Model inputs were taken from published literature where available and supplemented with western states' telestroke experiences. Costs were gathered using a societal perspective and converted to 2008 US dollars. Quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) gained were combined with costs to generate incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs). In the lifetime horizon model, both costs and QALYs were discounted at 3% annually. Both one-way sensitivity analyses and Monte Carlo simulations were performed.
Results: In the base case analysis, compared to usual care, telestroke results in an ICER of $108,363/QALY in the 90-day horizon and $2,449/QALY in the lifetime horizon. For the 90-day and lifetime horizons, 37.5% and 99.7% of 10,000 Monte Carlo simulations yielded ICERs <$50,000/QALY, a ratio commonly considered acceptable in the United States.
Conclusion: When a lifetime perspective is taken, telestroke appears cost-effective compared to usual care, since telestroke costs are upfront but benefits of improved stroke care are lifelong. If barriers to use such as low reimbursement rates and high equipment costs are reduced, telestroke has the potential to diminish the striking geographic disparities of acute stroke care in the United States.