Clinical- and cost-effectiveness of telemedicine in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Emerging telemedicine programs offer potential low-cost solutions to the management of chronic disease. We sought to evaluate the clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness of telemedicine approaches on glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Using terms related to type 2 diabetes and telemedicine, MEDLINE, Cochrane, EMBASE, and CINAHL Plus were searched to identify relevant studies published through February 28, 2014. Data from identified clinical trials were pooled according to telemedicine approach, and evaluated using conventional meta-analytical methods. We identified 47 articles, from 35 randomized controlled trials, reporting quantitative outcomes for hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). Twelve of the 35 studies provided intervention via telephone, either in the form of a call or a text message; 19 studies tested internet-based programs, employing video-conferencing and/or informational websites; and four studies used interventions involving electronically transmitted recommendations made by clinicians in response to internet-based reporting by patients. Overall, pooled results from these studies revealed a small, but statistically significant, decrease in HbA1c following intervention, compared to conventional treatment (pooled difference in means=-0.37, 95% CI=-0.49 to -0.25, Z=-6.08, P<0.001). Only two of the 35 studies included assessment of cost-effectiveness. These studies were disparate, both in terms of overall expense and relative cost-effectiveness. Optimization of telemedicine approaches could potentially allow for more effective self-management of disease in type 2 diabetes patients, though evidence to-date is unconvincing. Furthermore, significant publication bias was detected, suggesting that the literature should be interpreted cautiously.