Parent Experience and Cost Savings Associated With a Novel Tele-physiatry Program for Children Living in Rural and Underserved Communities

Published:August 20, 2021DOI:



      The aim of this study was to investigate parent and therapist experience and cost savings from the payer perspective associated with a novel tele-physiatry program for children living in rural and underserved communities.


      We designed a noninferiority, cluster-randomized crossover study at 4 school-based clinics to evaluate parent experience and perceived quality of care between a telemedicine-based approach in which the physiatrist conducts the visit remotely with an in-person therapist and a traditional in-person physiatrist clinic.


      Four school-based clinics in Northern California.


      A total of 268 encounters (124 telemedicine and 144 in-person) were completed by 200 unique patients (N=200).


      Not applicable.

      Main Outcome Measures

      Parent and therapist experience scores.


      For parents and therapists, experience and perceived quality of care were high with no significant differences between telemedicine and in-person encounters. For parents whose children received a telemedicine encounter, 40 (54.8%) reported no preference for their child's subsequent encounter, 21 (28.8%) preferred a physiatrist telemedicine visit, and 12 (16.4%) preferred a physiatrist in-person visit. From the payer perspective, costs were $100 higher for in-person clinics owing to physician mileage reimbursement.


      We found that school-based tele-physiatry for children with special health care needs is not inferior to in-person encounters with regard to parent and provider experience and perceived quality of care. Tele-physiatry was also associated with an average cost savings of $100 per clinic to the payer.


      List of abbreviations:

      AMD (adjusted mean difference), CCS (California Children's Services), CI (confidence interval), MTP (Medical Therapy Program), MTU (Medical Therapy Unit)
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