Use of telemedicine to screen patients in the emergency department: Matched cohort study evaluating efficiency and patient safety of telemedicine

Nicholas James Rademacher, Gai Cole, Kevin J. Psoter, Gabor Kelen, Jamie Wei Zhi Fan, Dennis Gordon, Junaid Razzak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Early efforts to incorporate telemedicine into Emergency Medicine focused on connecting remote treatment clinics to larger emergency departments (EDs) and providing remote consultation services to EDs with limited resources. Owing to continued ED overcrowding, some EDs have used telemedicine to increase the number of providers during surges of patient visits and offer scheduled "home" face-to-face, on-screen encounters. In this study, we used remote on-screen telemedicine providers in the "screening-in-triage" role. Objective: This study aimed to compare the efficiency and patient safety of in-person screening and telescreening. Methods: This cohort study, matched for days and proximate hours, compared the performance of real-time remote telescreening and in-person screening at a single urban academic ED over 22 weeks in the spring and summer of 2016. The study involved 337 standard screening hours and 315 telescreening hours. The primary outcome measure was patients screened per hour. Additional outcomes were rates of patients who left without being seen, rates of analgesia ordered by the screener, and proportion of patients with chest pain receiving or prescribed a standard set of tests and medications. Results: In-person screeners evaluated 1933 patients over 337 hours (5.7 patients per hour), whereas telescreeners evaluated 1497 patients over 315 hours (4.9 patients per hour; difference=0.8; 95% CI 0.5-1.2). Split analysis revealed that for the final 3 weeks of the evaluation, the patient-per-hour rate differential was neither clinically relevant nor statistically discernable (difference=0.2; 95% CI -0.7 to 1.2). There were fewer patients who left without being seen during in-person screening than during telescreening (2.6% vs 3.8%; difference=-1.2; 95% CI -2.4 to 0.0). However, compared to prior year-, date-, and time-matched data on weekdays from 1 am to 3 am, a period previously void of provider screening, telescreening decreased the rate of patients LWBS from 25.1% to 4.5% (difference=20.7%; 95% CI 10.1-31.2). Analgesia was ordered more frequently by telescreeners than by in-person screeners (51.2% vs 31.6%; difference=19.6%; 95% CI 12.1-27.1). There was no difference in standard care received by patients with chest pain between telescreening and in-person screening (29.4% vs 22.4%; difference=7.0%; 95% CI -3.4 to 17.4). Conclusions: Although the efficiency of telescreening, as measured by the rate of patients seen per hour, was lower early in the study period, telescreening achieved the same level of efficiency as in-person screening by the end of the pilot study. Adding telescreening during 1-3 am on weekdays dramatically decreased the number of patients who left without being seen compared to historic data. Telescreening was an effective and safe way for this ED to expand the hours in which patients were screened by a health care provider in triage.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11233
JournalJMIR Medical Informatics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Emergency department
  • Emergency health services
  • Emergency medical service
  • Emergency medicine
  • Emergency room
  • Left without being seen
  • Screening
  • Tele-medicine
  • Telehealth
  • Telemedicine
  • Triage


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