Where Does Telemedicine Fit into Otolaryngology? An Assessment of Telemedicine Eligibility among Otolaryngology Diagnoses

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Telemedicine applications are expanding to improve access to specialty care in rural areas. Telemedicine is not routinely used to evaluate new patients in otolaryngology, and it remains unclear which patients could benefit from this technology. This study estimates the rate of telemedicine eligibility among specific otolaryngology diagnoses. We conducted a retrospective cohort study of all ear, nose, and throat consults between August 1, 2013, and July 31, 2015. We paired diagnoses (International Classification of Disease, Ninth Revision) with office-based procedures (Current Procedural Terminology) and applied prespecified telemedicine eligibility criteria to encounters retroactively. If a specialized procedure was necessary to reach a diagnosis, the diagnosis was considered ineligible for telemedicine. We found that 62% of otolaryngology encounters would likely be eligible for telemedicine. Patients with inner and middle ear problems were more likely eligible for telemedicine, while patients with problems affecting the larynx and external ear were least likely eligible. Nearly 90% of veterans drove >1 hour round-trip for services. Understanding which otolaryngology problem types are more frequently eligible for telemedicine may assist those who are planning to implement a telemedicine program.

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