Telemedicine for Pain Management May Save Patients' Time and Money

By Rob Goodier

October 16, 2020

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Virtual pain medicine visits, rather than in-person office visits, saved patients an average of more than two hours in driving time and more than $100 in expenses and lost wages over the course of three appointments, according to a study of 90 patients who opted for telemedicine for pain management.

The findings were presented virtually October 5th at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

"Patients who are being evaluated for new conditions may be better off having office visits initially. But once patients establish a relationship with providers, follow-up visits can occur efficiently with telemedicine, while maintaining patient rapport and quality outcomes. We believe 50% of our visits could be conducted via telemedicine," lead author Dr. Laleh Jalilian, clinical assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a statement.

Dr. Jalilian and colleagues conducted a retrospective, non-randomized study of 90 telemedicine patients for a period spanning pre- and post-pandemic months, from August 2019 to June 2020. The patients held 159 video consultations for pain management.

In that time, the patients avoided a median roundtrip drive of 72.2 miles, saving a median 155 minutes, an average $28 in gas and parking per trip and an average $89 in estimated wages earned during the time saved.

To estimate the wages earned, the researchers examined publicly available IRS tax data to estimate an hourly wage average in the patients' zip code.

"This is something for us to revisit as we think about continuing to improve the value of care delivery, as well as issues like climate change and future pandemics. Is it a win-win? This is one of the few studies that quantifies (the benefit) in a very tangible way," said Dr. David Dickerson, Section Chief of Pain Medicine at Northshore University Health System of hospitals in Chicago, who was not involved in the research.

Only 28 patients filled out surveys, but 98% of them said they were satisfied with virtual visits.

"This era of contactless interactions and social distancing has really accelerated the adoption of telemedicine, but even before the pandemic, patient satisfaction was consistently high," Dr. Jalilian said in the press release.

Dr. Jalilian did not respond to requests for comment.

SOURCE: Anesthesiology 2020.