Report analyses published reporting of telehealth

An agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ), has published, for peer review, a draft of a new report (a “technology assessment”) entitled “Telehealth: an Evidence Map for Decision making”. AHRQ, the report explains, “through its Evidence-based Practice Centers (EPCs), sponsors the development of evidence reports and technology assessments to assist public and private sector organizations in their efforts to improve the quality of health care in the United States.”

The purpose of this new technology assessment is given as creating a review of the evidence available (essentially a literature review) so as to inform decision makers. The authors had identified 1,305 citations about telehealth of which 44 had been selected for this review. Unsurprisingly, the report says ” comparatively large volume of research reported that telehealth interventions produce positive results when used for communication/counseling and monitoring and management for several chronic conditions and for psychotherapy as part of behavioral health.”

It recommends additional primary research be carried out on topics such as telehealth for triage in urgent/primary care, management of serious paediatric conditions and the integration of behavioral and physical health. Finally, it recommends that telehealth research should be integrated into evaluation of new models of care and payment so that the potential of telehealth can be assessed in organizations that are implementing these reforms.

The practical value of this piece of work is not obvious to me. This is an interesting literature review with a new approach to analysing the available literature but possibly of little interest outside academia. Identification of areas where there is little or no published data relating to specific types of telehealth application is useful and hopefully would encourage some more reporting.

The issue of generating statistical proof that telehealth is a suitable means of treatment has been kicked about for several years and led to the UK Government running the famous “Whole System Demonstrator”, but really, trying to show telehealth works is hardly the same as using a clinical trial to show some new drug is effective in treating a targeted disease.

If you would like to download and read the report it is available on the AHRQ website here.

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