Objectives: There is no systematic review on economic evaluations of telemedicine in Japan, despite over 1000 trials implemented. Our systematic review aims to examine whether Japan's telemedicine is cost-saving or cost-effective, examine the methodological rigorousness of the economic evaluations, and discuss future studies needed to improve telemedicine's financial sustainability. Methods: We searched five databases, including two Japanese databases, to find peer-reviewed articles published between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2014 in English and Japanese that performed economic evaluations of Japan's telemedicine programs. The methodological rigorousness of the economic analyses was assessed with a well-established checklist. We calculated the benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) when a reviewed study reported related data but did not report the BCR. All cost values were adjusted to 2014 US dollars. Results: Among the 17 articles identified, six studies reported on settings connecting physicians for specialist consultations, and eleven studies on settings connecting healthcare providers and patients at home. There are three cost-benefit analyses and three cost-minimization analyses. The remaining studies measured the benefit of telemedicine only, using medical expenditure saved or users' willingness-to-pay. There was substantial diversity in the methodological rigorousness. Studies on teledermatology and teleradiology indicated a favorable level of economic efficiency. Studies on telehomecare gave mixed results. One cost-benefit analysis on telehomecare indicated a low economic efficiency, partly due to public subsidy rules, e.g., a too short budget period. Conclusions: Overall, telemedicine programs in Japan were indicated to have a favorable level of economic efficiency. However, the scarcity of the economic literature indicates the need for further rigorous economic evaluation studies.
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