Telehealth is not cost effective, researchers claim

Blow to government as new report suggests telehealth interventions will not save money

Confusion over the potential impact of telehealth continues this week with the publication of a report that increases doubt over whether interventions will prove to be cost effective in the future.

The document published in the British Medical Journal is based on research comparing outcomes of telehealth intervention among patients with long-term medical conditions. Their responses were assessed against the cost effectiveness formula, QALY, generated by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

And the results show that the incremental cost of telehealth per QALY when added to a patient’s usual care plan was £92,000. This is well above the cost effectiveness threshold of £30,000 set by NICE, with the probability of overall cost effectiveness at a low 11%.

The QALY gain by patients using telehealth in addition to usual care was similar to that by patients receiving usual care only, and total costs associated with the telehealth intervention were higher. Telehealth does not seem to be a cost effective addition to standard support and treatment

The research involved 965 patients, with 534 receiving telehealth and the rest their usual care plan with no additional support.

It showed that, even where telehealth services were rolled out at maximum capacity, thereby bringing the costs down through economies of scale, the cost of assistive technologies was slightly higher than the cost of normal care packages. At this scale cost effectiveness was still at a low 61%.

The authors of the report conclude: “The QALY gain by patients using telehealth in addition to usual care was similar to that by patients receiving usual care only, and total costs associated with the telehealth intervention were higher. Telehealth does not seem to be a cost effective addition to standard support and treatment.”

This is yet another blow to the Government’s plan to roll out telehealth to at least three million people with long-term health conditions. The Department of Health has maintained that the widespread introduction of such technology would improve patients’ quality of life and ability to live independently as well as taking pressure off hospitals and social care services.

Catherine Hendersen, research officer at the London School of Economics, said: “It is unlikely that telehealth is cost effective in terms of improving quality of life in relation to a NICE threshold of £30,000.”

“It is unlikely that telehealth is cost effective in terms of improving quality of life in relation to a NICE threshold of £30,000

The findings follow an earlier BMJ study that questioned the Government’s claim through the Whole System Demonstrator telehealth and telecare trial that using assistive technologies would improve patients’ quality of life by increasing their independence and self management. That BMJ report concluded that it did not significantly improve quality of life for those with medical conditions.

Click here for the latest BMJ study.

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