VA study finds significant travel savings for telemedicine patients

Jeff Rowe
VA study finds significant travel savings for telemedicine patients

Proponents of telemedicine are generally quick to point out how much more efficient care delivery could be by expanding the use of tele-services, and a new study demonstrates that one of those efficiencies can come in the form of reduced travel costs.

According to a study published in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs' use of telemedicine to treat patients at a Vermont hospital resulted in an average travel payment savings of $18,555 per year between 2005 and 2013.

“The Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system has been actively engaged in broadening the applications of telemedicine,” the study notes, “in part to increase access to services for its aging and often rural patient population.” The authors point out that lack of reimbursement—a common barrier to entry into telemedicine—does not apply in the integrated VA health system. “The VA system is also unique in that it provides beneficiary travel reimbursement  . . . to qualifying patients as compensation for time and money spent traveling to appointments. VA travel pay is projected to cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion in 2015. Telemedicine has the potential to reduce VA travel pay reimbursements, but to our knowledge this potential savings has not been previously examined in the literature.”

For the study, all telemedicine visits conducted from the VA hospital in White River Junction, VT between 2005 and 2013 were reviewed. The study found that telemedicine resulted in an average savings of 145 miles and 142 min per visit, while telemedicine services volume grew significantly over the study period so that by the final year the travel savings had increased to $63,804, or about 3.5 percent of the total travel pay for that year.