There’s been an increase in doubt about the efficacy of telemedicine (virtual visits) and telehealth (vital signs monitoring) as a result of the publication of two recent long-term studies, one conducted by the University of Wisconsin and the other by CCHSC for Telemonitoring NI [TTA 13 Sep]. These follow studies that were directionally positive, and in a few cases like the VA studies conducted by Adam Darkins, very much so, but mostly flawed or incomplete (low N, short term, differing metrics). What’s missing is a framework for assessing the results of both. In an exceptionally well-timed announcement, the National Quality Forum (NQF) announced their development of a framework for assessing the quality and impact of telehealth services.
In a wonder of clarity, the NQF defines telehealth’s scope as telemedicine (live patient-provider video), store-and-forward (e.g. radiology), remote patient monitoring (telehealth), and mobile health (smartphone apps). Measurement covers four categories: patients’ access to care, financial impact to patients and their care team, patient and clinician experience, and effectiveness of clinical and operational systems. Within these categories, NQF identified six areas as having the highest priority for measurement: travel, timeliness of care, actionable information, added value of telehealth to provide evidence-based practices, patient empowerment, and care coordination. Finally, the developing committee identified 16 measures that can be used to measure telehealth quality.
The NQF also issued a similar framework for interoperability, a bête noire that has led many a clinician and developer to the consumption of adult beverages. Again there are four categories: the exchange of electronic health information, its usability, its application, and its impact—on patient safety, costs, productivity, care coordination, processes and outcomes, and patients’ and caregivers’ experience and engagement. And it kept the committee very busy indeed with, from the release, “53 ideas for measures that would be useful in the short term (0-3 years), in the mid-term (3-5 years) and in the long-term (5+ years). It also identified 36 existing measures that serve as representative examples of these measure ideas (sic) and how they could be affected by interoperability.”
Both reports were commissioned and funded a year ago by the US Health & Human Services Department (HHS). We will see if these frameworks are extensively used by researchers.