Study: Rural ED Doctors Make Fewer Errors When Using Telehealth

Emergency department physicians in rural hospitals make fewer medication administration errors when they consult with a pediatric critical care specialist via a videoconferencing system, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, Reuters reports.

Study Details

For the study, researchers from the University of California-Davis Children's Hospital examined data on 234 children with serious illnesses or injuries who were seen at one of eight rural EDs in Northern California from 2003 to 2009.

The EDs were participating in a larger study on telemedicine.

Of the 234 cases studied:

  • Physicians used telemedicine technology to consult with a pediatric critical care specialist in 73 cases;
  • Physicians consulted with specialists over the phone in 85 cases; and
  • Physicians did not consult with a specialist at all in 76 cases.

The ED physicians administered at least one medication to 72% of the children.

Study Findings

According to the study, rural ED physicians were less likely to make errors when administering medications -- such as giving a patient the wrong dose or wrong drug -- when they used telemedicine to connect with a specialist.

The study found that the ED physicians made medication administration errors:

  • 3% of the time when using telemedicine to connect with a specialist;
  • 11% of the time when consulting with a specialist by phone; and
  • 13% of the time when not consulting with a specialist.

Researchers could not conclude whether fewer medication errors resulted in children having better care outcomes. They also were unable to report whether the medication errors happened before or after the specialist consultations (Pittman, Reuters, 11/25).

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