In the Philippines during recent months, a neurosurgical center that caters primarily to socioeconomically disadvantaged patients has encountered unprecedented changes in practice patterns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the usual task of outpatient care has shifted to the telemedicine format, bringing along all of its attendant advantages and gargantuan challenges. The authors sought to determine the responsiveness of this telemedicine setup to the needs of their disadvantaged patients and explored the application of Bayesian inference to enhance the use of teleconsultation in daily clinical decision-making.
The authors used the following methods to assess the telemedicine setup used in a low-resource setting during the pandemic: 1) a cross-sectional survey of patients who participated in a medical consultation via telemedicine during the 16-week period from March 16, 2020, to July 15, 2020; 2) a cost-benefit analysis of the use of telemedicine by patients; and 3) a case illustration of a Bayesian approach application unique to the teleconsultation scenario.
Of the 272 patient beneficiaries of telemedicine in a 16-week period, 57 responded to the survey. The survey responses regarding neurosurgical outpatient care through telemedicine yielded high ratings of utility for the patients and their caregivers. According to 64% of respondents, the affordability of the telemedicine setup also prevented them from borrowing money from others, among other adverse life events prevented. There were realized financial gains on the part of the patients in terms of cost savings and protection from further impoverishment. The benefit-cost ratio was 3.51 for the patients, signifying that the benefits outweighed the costs. An actual teleconsultation case vignette was reported that is meant to be instructive and contributory to the preparedness of the neurosurgeon on the provider end of the service delivery.
Telemedicine holds promise as a viable and safe method for health service delivery during the pandemic. In the setting of a health system that is continually challenged by shortages of resources, this study shows that an effective telemedicine setup can come with high benefit-cost ratios and quality of care, along with the assurance of patient satisfaction. The potential for high-quality care can be enhanced by the inclusion of the Bayesian framework to the basic toolkit of remote clinical assessment. When confronted with choices in terms of differential diagnosis and tests, the rigor of a simple application of the Bayesian framework can minimize costs arising from uncertainties.