Cost and Utility Analysis of a Store-and-Forward Teledermatology Referral System: A Randomized Clinical Trial

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Abstract

Importance

The costs and utility of teledermatology are important features of implementation. Such an analysis requires a description of the perspective of the entity that will bear the cost.

Objective

To assess the costs and utility of a store-and-forward teledermatology referral process compared with a conventional referral process from the perspectives of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and society.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Three hundred ninety-one randomized participants were referred from remote sites of primary care to the dermatology services of 2 VA medical facilities for ambulatory skin conditions from December 2008 through June 2010, and follow-up was completed in March 2011. The time trade-off utility measures and costs were collected during a 9-month period among participants in a 2-site parallel group randomized clinical trial. The perspectives of the VA and society were evaluated. The multiple imputation procedure or weighted means were used for missing data elements. Data were analyzed from January to July 2014.

Interventions

Referrals were managed using store-and-forward teledermatology or a conventional text-based referral process.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Total costs from the perspectives of the VA and society incurred during the 9-month follow-up were used to derive per-participant costs. Utility, using the time trade-off method, was the measure of effectiveness.

Results

From the VA perspective, the total cost for conventional referrals was $66 145 (minimum, $58 697; maximum, $71 635), or $338 (SD, $291) per participant (196 participants); the total cost for teledermatology referrals was $59 917 (mimimum, $51 794; maximum, $70 398), or $308 (SD, $298) per participant (195 participants). The $30 difference in per-participant cost was not statistically significant (95% CI, −$79 to $20). From the societal perspective, the total cost for conventional referrals was $106 194 (minimum, $98 746; maximum, $111 684), or $542 (SD, $403) per participant (196 participants); the total cost for teledermatology referrals was $89 523 (minimum, $81 400; maximum, $100 400) or $460 (SD, $428) per participant. This $82 difference in per-participant cost was statistically significant (95% CI, −$12 to −$152). From baseline to the 9-month follow-up, the time trade-off utility value improved by 0.02 in the conventional referral group and 0.03 in the teledermatology group. This difference was not statistically significant (P = .50).

Conclusions and Relevance

Compared with conventional referrals, store-and-forward teledermatology referrals were performed at a comparable cost (VA perspective) or at a lower cost (societal perspective) with no evidence of a difference in utility as measured by the time trade-off method.

Trial Registration

clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00488293

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