OBJECTIVES: To determine the accuracy of remote diagnosis of congenital heart disease (CHD) by real-time transmission of echocardiographic images via integrated services digital network (ISDN) lines, to assess the impact on patient management and examine cost implications.
DESIGN: Prospective comparison of echocardiograms on infants with suspected significant CHD performed as follows: (1) hands-on evaluation and echocardiogram by a paediatrician at a district general hospital (DGH) followed by (2) transmission of the echocardiogram via ISDN 6 with guidance from a paediatric cardiologist and finally (3) hands-on evaluation and echocardiogram by a paediatric cardiologist. The economic analysis compares the cost of patient care associated with the telemedicine service with a hypothetical control group.
SETTING: Neonatal units of three DGH and a UK regional paediatric cardiology unit.
RESULTS: Echocardiograms were transmitted on 124 infants. In five cases scans were inadequate for diagnosis. Of the remaining 119 tele-echocardiograms, a follow-up echocardiogram was performed on 109/119 (92%). Major CHD was diagnosed in 39/109 infants (36%) and minor CHD in 45 (41%). The tele-echo diagnosis was accurate in 96% of cases (kappa=0.89). Unnecessary transfer to the regional unit was avoided in 93/124 patients (75%). Despite relatively high implementation costs, telemedicine care was substantially cheaper than standard care. Each DGH potentially saved money by utilising the telemedicine service (mean saving: pound728/patient).
CONCLUSIONS: CHD is accurately diagnosed by realtime transmission of echocardiograms performed by paediatricians under live guidance and interpretation by a paediatric cardiologist. Remote diagnosis and exclusion of CHD affects patient management and may be cost saving.
- Cardiology Service, Hospital/economics
- Health Care Costs/statistics & numerical data
- Heart Defects, Congenital/diagnostic imaging
- Hospitals, District/economics
- Hospitals, General/economics
- Infant, Newborn
- Northern Ireland
- Patient Transfer/statistics & numerical data
- Prospective Studies
- Unnecessary Procedures/statistics & numerical data