The National Academy for State Health Policy recently convened to discuss two telehealth studies funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).  Meeting participants (state legislators and representatives of state healthcare-related agencies) specifically expressed interest in determining whether interventions could be scaled to diverse populations and whether a rural, school-based intervention could be successful for adults in need of follow-up care.  A prominent theme from the discussions of both studies was the importance of patient preferences for care.

One of the on-going studies is based in rural Alaska and is testing how well a new school-based screening and referral process—combined with a telemedicine consultation—can expedite the identification of hearing loss in children.  State law in Alaska requires children to be screened for hearing loss at school. However, the current screenings might not detect all hearing loss, and many students do not get needed follow-up care.

In all 15 communities, school staff screen children for hearing loss using the schools’ current method. In addition, research staff who are not trained audiologists screen children with a new cell-phone-based (mHealth) screen. Audiology research staff perform full hearing testing similar to what children would receive in an audiology clinic, so the study team can compare these results with those of the first two methods.  While the study does not yet have full results, the region saved $18 million in 2016 and 91 percent of patient travel to specialists was avoided.  Data will be collected until February 2020.