It is unclear whether implementing telehealth technology in intensive care units leads to long-term financial benefits for hospitals, according to a study published in the journal Chest, Reuters reports.
The study was led by Gaurav Kumar, a fellow at the University of Iowa who also is affiliated with the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Iowa City.
For the study, Kumar and his colleagues analyzed eight previous studies covering 29 ICUs that had implemented telehealth technology.
Findings About Costs of Telehealth Systems
Based on the previous research, Kumar's study estimated that hospitals spend about $50,000 to $100,000 per ICU bed to implement a telehealth system for one year.
When researchers examined the cost of implementing a telehealth system at the VA Medical Center in Iowa City and six other hospitals in the same VA network, they found a similar cost range of $70,000 to $87,000 per ICU bed for one year.
Findings About Return on Investment
However, the previous studies showed wide variations in whether the telehealth investments paid off, researchers found.
For example, one study found that using telehealth technology reduced the amount of time that patients spent in the ICU by 30%, therefore reducing hospital expenses. However, two other studies found that using the telehealth technology either led to no cost savings or increased expenses.
Call for More Research
Kumar and his colleagues said that it is important for hospitals to understand the financial costs associated with implementing telehealth technology. They added that more research is needed on the benefits of investing in the systems.
The authors wrote, "Long-term viability of tele-ICU programs will require more detailed data that these programs are cost-effective" (Grens, Reuters, 7/30).