Electronic communication with patients. Evaluation of distance medicine technology

JAMA. 1997 Jul 9;278(2):152-9.


Objective: To evaluate controlled evidence on the efficacy of distance medicine technologies in clinical practice and health care outcome.

Data sources: Systematic electronic database and manual searches (1966-1996) were conducted to identify clinical trial reports on distance medicine applications.

Study selection: Three eligibility criteria were applied: prospective, contemporaneously controlled clinical trial with random assignment of the intervention; electronic distance technology application in the intervention group and no similar intervention in the control group; and measurement of the intervention effect on process or outcome of care.

Data extraction: Data were abstracted by independent reviewers using a standardized abstraction form and the quality of methodology was scored. Distance technology applications were described in 6 categories: computerized communication, telephone follow-up and counseling, telephone reminders, interactive telephone systems, after-hours telephone access, and telephone screening.

Data synthesis: Of 80 eligible clinical trials, 61 (76%) analyzed provider-initiated communication with patients and 50 (63%) reported positive outcome, improved performance, or significant benefits, including studies of computerized communication (7 of 7), telephone follow-up and counseling (20 of 37), telephone reminders (14 of 23), interactive telephone systems (5 of 6), telephone access (3 of 4), and telephone screening (1 of 3). Significantly improved outcomes were demonstrated in studies of preventive care, management of osteoarthritis, cardiac rehabilitation, and diabetes care.

Conclusions: Distance medicine technology enables greater continuity of care by improving access and supporting the coordination of activities by a clinician. The benefits of distance technologies in facilitating communication between clinicians and patients indicate that application of telemedicine should not be limited to physician-to-physician communication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Continuity of Patient Care
  • Medical Informatics Applications*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Patient Participation
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Reminder Systems
  • Remote Consultation
  • Self Care / standards*
  • Telecommunications / statistics & numerical data*
  • Telemedicine
  • Telephone / statistics & numerical data