Telemedicine Evaluations for Low-Acuity Patients Presenting to the Emergency Department: Implications for Safety and Patient Satisfaction

Telemed J E Health. 2020 Aug;26(8):1010-1015. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2019.0193. Epub 2020 Jan 13.


Background:Telemedicine is being rapidly adopted by traditional health care systems. We have used telemedicine in a program we call Express Care to allow a single physician to remotely perform evaluations of low-acuity patients.Materials and Methods:We conducted a retrospective cohort study of quality assurance data comparing low-acuity patients treated by an emergency department (ED) physician through telemedicine (Express Care) with those treated by an ED physician in person between July 16, 2016 and September 30, 2017. We compared patient demographics, length of stay (LOS), visit severity as measured by emergency severity index (ESI), visit diagnosis type, return visits, and patient satisfaction scores.Results:There were 3,266 low-acuity patients seen through telemedicine and 21,129 seen in person during the observation period. Patients receiving evaluation by telemedicine were younger (mean age ± standard deviation [in years]: 42 ± 18 vs. 45 ± 17; p < 0.001) and more likely to be male (51% vs. 46%; p < 0.001). Median ESI was slightly lower for patients treated by telemedicine [4 (4-5) vs. 4 (4-4); p < 0.001], and there were modest differences in diagnosis type between the two groups. Median ED LOS was 63.6 (interquartile range [IQR] 42.6-93.6) min for telemedicine patients and 133.8 (IQR 90.6-196.8) min for patients seen in person (p < 0.001). Seventy-two hour returns (3.4% vs. 3.0%; p = 0.302) and 72-h returns requiring admission (0.2% vs. 0.3%; p = 0.252) were similar between groups. Patient satisfaction scores were also similar between the groups.Conclusion:Telemedicine evaluation for ED patients can be effective and safe when treating low-acuity conditions without compromising patient satisfaction.

Keywords: emergency department; patient satisfaction; safety; telemedicine.

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Telemedicine*