Access to timely care is important for patients with stroke, where rapid diagnosis and treatment affect functional status, disability, and mortality. Telestroke programs connect stroke specialists with emergency department staff at facilities without on-site stroke expertise. The objective of this study was to examine healthcare costs for patients with stroke who sought care before and after implementation of the US Department of Veterans Affairs National TeleStroke Program (NTSP).
We identified 471 patients who had a stroke and sought care at a telestroke site and compared them to 529 patients with stroke who received stroke care at the same sites before telestroke implementation. We examined patient costs for 12 months before and after stroke, using a linear model with a patient-level fixed effect.
NTSP was associated with significantly higher rates of patients receiving guideline concordant care. Compared with control patients, those treated by NTSP were 14.3 percentage points more likely to receive tissue plasminogen activator and 4.3 percentage points more likely to receive a thrombectomy (all P .0001). NTSP was associated with $4821 increased costs for patients with stroke in the first 30 days after the program (2019 dollars). There were no observed savings over 12 months, and the added costs of care were attributable to higher rates of guideline concordant care.
Telestroke programs are unlikely to yield short-term savings because optimal stroke care is expensive. Healthcare organizations should expect increases in healthcare costs for patients treated for stroke in the first year after implementing a telestroke program.
Todd H. Wagner Lena Schoemaker Elizabeth Gehlert Richard E. Nelson Katherine Murphy Sharyl Martini Glenn D. Graham Prasanthi Govindarajan Linda S. Williams