Introduction: Data addressing the economic aspects of telehealth initiatives are incipient. This study aimed to evaluate the labor costs for running a COVID-19 telehealth system and its potential incremental access to health care service. Methods: From July 2020 to July 2021, data from a Brazilian teleconsultation service were analyzed. Labor costs were estimated by time-driven activity-based costing. A Generalized Reduced Gradient solving method was coded to maximize the mean incremental access rate and two scenarios were considered to compare the teleconsultation with the in-person consultation: (1) only the length of time that patients spent with a clinician in an in-person consultation was accounted and (2) in addition to the medical consultation, nursing screening was accounted. The mean incremental access rate of the teleconsultation service was defined as a maximization objective in the model. Results: Mean labor costs per medical and nursing teleconsultations are Int$ 24 and Int$ 10, based on data analyses from 25,258 patients. Telemonitoring a patient with a daily call for 7 days costs, on average, Int$ 14. COVID-19 teleconsultation service represents, on average, an incremental access to medical consultation rate of 35% to 52% (min 23% max 63%) for the scenarios (1) and (2), respectively, and considering the current consumed budget for this service. Discussion: A COVID-19 telehealth service contributes to increasing access to the health care system without increasing costs. These services can be included in the bundle of care strategies offered in a national public health care system that looks for more sustainable strategies to provide care.
Keywords: COVID-19; cost-saving strategies; telehealth; telemedicine.