Randomised controlled trial of telemedicine for new neurological outpatient referrals
- aInstitute of Telemedicine and Telecare, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, UK, bDepartment of Neurology, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, UK, cCentre for Online Health, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
- Dr R Chua
- Received 8 November 2000
- Revised 23 February 2001
- Accepted 28 February 2001
OBJECTIVE To test the hypothesis that telemedicine for new patient referrals to neurological outpatients is as efficient and acceptable as conventional face to face consultation.
METHODS A randomised controlled trial between two groups: face to face (FF) and telemedicine (TM). This study was carried out between a neurological centre and outlying clinics at two distant hospitals linked by identical medium cost commercial interactive video conferencing equipment with ISDN lines transmitting information at 384 kbits/s. The same two neurologists carried out both arms of the study.
Of the 168 patients who were suitable for the study, 86 were randomised into the telemedicine group and 82 into the face to face group. Outcome measures were (1) consultation process: (a) number of investigations; (b) number of drugs prescribed; (c) number of patient reviews and (2) patient satisfaction: (a) confidence in consultation; (b) technical aspects of consultation; (c) aspects surrounding confidentiality. Diagnostic categories were also measured to check equivalence between the groups: these were structural neurological, structural non-neurological, non-structural, and uncertain.
RESULTS Diagnostic categories were similar (p>0.5) between the two groups. Patients in the telemedicine group had significantly more investigations (p=0.001). There was no difference in the number of drugs prescribed (p>0.5). Patients were generally satisfied with both types of consultation process except for concerns about confidentiality and embarrassment in the telemedicine group (p=0.017 and p=0.005 respectively).
CONCLUSION Telemedicine for new neurological outpatients is possible and feasible but generates more investigations and is less well accepted than face to face examination.