Since one of the Whole Systems Demonstrator (WSD) let drop at the King’s Fund conference last March that the telehealth Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALY) cost calculation was coming out at £80,000 the actual paper has been ‘eagerly’ awaited, with speculation and concern that the calculation included management and other study-related costs that would not apply in a normal service setting. The paper is published by the BMJ today and a) such costs were excluded and b) the QALY figure is actually £92,000. Well, that’s the headline figure that is already being headlined by Pulse but, of course, the calculations are more nuanced. Foe example:
Whether telehealth is considered to be cost effective will depend on the willingness to pay for the outcomes generated. Figure 1 presents the probability that telehealth would be seen as cost effective as an addition to usual care, using an acceptability curve for different values of willingness to pay. At the £30,000 threshold (associated with NICE recommendations), the probability of cost effectiveness was 11%. Figure 1 also shows the probability of cost effectiveness if costs related to project management were excluded: at the £30,000 threshold, the probability of cost effectiveness was 17%. Indeed, this probability including management costs only exceeded 50% at threshold values of willingness to pay above £90,000. Excluding project management costs, the probability exceeded 50% only at values above about £79,000.
The discussion is also worth reading carefully, as is the final conclusion:
A community based, telehealth intervention is unlikely to be cost effective, based on health and social care costs and outcomes after 12 months and the willingness to pay threshold of £30,000 per QALY recommended by NICE. A reduced cost of telehealth per QALY may be possible by combining the effects of equipment price reductions and increased working capacity of services; On the assumption of reduced equipment costs and increased working capacity, the probability that telehealth is cost effective would be about 61%, assuming a willingness to pay threshold of £30,000 per QALY.
BMJ paper: Cost effectiveness of telehealth for patients with long term conditions (Whole Systems Demonstrator telehealth questionnaire study): nested economic evaluation in a pragmatic, cluster randomised controlled trial BMJ 2013;346:f1035
Mike Clark’s Updated list of WSD results papers.
Interview with Professor Martin Knapp As “telehealth” grows, experts question cost benefits Reuters.
David Brindle, in The Guardian anticipated these results last month and, in a follow up article commented “Fourteen months on from its launch, 3millionlives seems to be going nowhere. Intuitively, telecare/telehealth feels like a key pillar of the future care system. To be that, however, it does need a credible evidence base.”
3millionlives press release: 3millionlives – enabling change to benefit patients and carers. (PDF)
GP Online Telehealth ‘not good use of NHS money’, finds DH-backed study.
NHS Choices Are benefits of telehealth care worth the cost?