Background: Meeting time goals for patients with time-sensitive conditions can be challenging in rural emergency departments (EDs), and adopting policies is critical. ED-based telemedicine has been proposed to improve quality and timeliness of care in rural EDs.
Introduction: The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that diagnostic testing in telemedicine-supplemented ED care for patients with myocardial infarction (MI) and stroke would be faster than nontelemedicine care in rural EDs.
Materials and methods: This observational cohort study included all ED patients with MI or stroke in 19 rural critical access hospitals served by a single real-time contract-based telemedicine provider in the upper Midwest (2007-2015). The primary outcome for the MI cohort was time-to-electrocardiogram (EKG) and for the stroke cohort was time-to-head computed tomography (CT) interpretation. To measure the relationship between telemedicine and timeliness parameters, generalized estimating equations models were used, clustering on presenting hospital.
Results: Of participating ED visits, 756 were included in the MI cohort (29% used telemedicine) and 140 were included in the stroke cohort (30% used telemedicine). Time-to-EKG did not differ when telemedicine was used (1% faster, 95% confidence interval [CI] -4% to 7%), or after telemedicine was implemented (4% faster, 95% CI -3% to 10%). Head CT interpretation was faster for telemedicine cases (15% faster, 95% CI 4-26%). No differences were observed in time to reperfusion therapy.
Conclusions: Telemedicine implementation was associated with more timely head CT interpretation for rural patients with stroke, but no difference in early MI care. Future work will focus on the specific manner in which telemedicine changes ED care processes and ongoing professional education.