Evaluation of an Intrahospital Telemedicine Program for Patients Admitted With COVID-19: Mixed Methods Study

J Med Internet Res. 2021 Apr 29;23(4):e25987. doi: 10.2196/25987.


Background: The increasing incidence of COVID-19 infection has challenged health care systems to increase capacity while conserving personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies and minimizing nosocomial spread. Telemedicine shows promise to address these challenges but lacks comprehensive evaluation in the inpatient environment.

Objective: The aim of this study is to evaluate an intrahospital telemedicine program (virtual care), along with its impact on exposure risk and communication.

Methods: We conducted a natural experiment of virtual care on patients admitted for COVID-19. The primary exposure variable was documented use of virtual care. Patient characteristics, PPE use rates, and their association with virtual care use were assessed. In parallel, we conducted surveys with patients and clinicians to capture satisfaction with virtual care along the domains of communication, medical treatment, and exposure risk.

Results: Of 137 total patients in our primary analysis, 43 patients used virtual care. In total, there were 82 inpatient days of use and 401 inpatient days without use. Hospital utilization and illness severity were similar in patients who opted in versus opted out. Virtual care was associated with a significant reduction in PPE use and physical exam rate. Surveys of 41 patients and clinicians showed high rates of recommendation for further use, and subjective improvements in communication. However, providers and patients expressed limitations in usability, medical assessment, and empathetic communication.

Conclusions: In this pilot natural experiment, only a subset of patients used inpatient virtual care. When used, virtual care was associated with reductions in PPE use, reductions in exposure risk, and patient and provider satisfaction.

Keywords: COVID-19; communication; evaluation; exposure; hospital; hospital medicine; impact; mixed methods; risk; telehealth; telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis
  • COVID-19 / therapy*
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Inpatients*
  • Male
  • Personal Protective Equipment / supply & distribution
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Telemedicine / methods*
  • Telemedicine / standards*