What is the Least Costly Strategy to Evaluate Cervical Abnormalities in Rural Women? Comparing Telemedicine, Local Practitioners, and Expert Physicians

David M. Bishai, Daron G. Ferris, Mark S. Litaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective. This study establishes the least costly strategy for evaluation of rural women in need of colposcopy among 3 alternatives: telemedicine, local practitioners, and referral experts. Methods. Women in rural Georgia who needed colposcopy were examined by an expert colposcopist on site, by a local practitioner, and by a distant expert colposcopist linked by telemedicine. Independent determinations of biopsy intent were used to model the differing biopsy costs of the 3 methods. Record review determined the average total cost of telemedicine. Reports of average cost in year 2000 dollars from societal perspective include medical costs and pain and suffering due to additional biopsies and curettage, telemedicine costs, and costs of potential diagnostic delay for a 1-year time horizon. Results: From the societal perspective in the baseline case, the average cost per patient evaluated was $270 for patients seen by referral experts. The cost was $38 less (e.g., $232) for patients seen by local practitioners, and $35 more (e.g., $305) for patients seen by telemedicine. From the societal perspective, local practitioners were less costly than referral experts because of lower travel costs for patients, but from the medical perspective, their average cost was $32 higher than referral experts because they performed more biopsies and curettage procedures than experts. Telemedicine assistance would have lowered the number of biopsies performed by local practitioners, but as of year 2000 the costs of this technology could not be justified by the savings. Conclusion. From the societal perspective, local practitioners performing colposcopy are the least costly way to evaluate cervical abnormalities in rural patients with substantial time and travel costs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)463-470
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Decision Making
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2003



  • Access to health care
  • Cervical neoplasia
  • Colposcopy
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Technology assessment
  • Telemedicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy

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