Telehealth Acceptable and Preferred for Most Postoperative Follow-up

Telehealth follow up consultations after a surgical operation have become preferred compared to in-person visits, according to 2 recent studies.

Telehealth follow up consultations after a surgical operation have become preferred compared to in-person visits, according to 2 recent studies.

A prospective pilot study from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, tracked 50 patients who completed both online and in-person visits after certain operations: elective laparoscopic cholecystectomy, laparoscopic ventral hernia repair, umbilical hernia repair, or inguinal hernia repair.

The researchers found that 76% of patients said online visits were acceptable as the only form of follow-up care, and surgeons participating said that for 68% of patients, online visits were just as effective as in-person visits.

Despite optimism from patients and surgeons, the researchers warned about potential detriments when using telehealth as a follow up after an operation, such as liability concerns, provider work burden, and modified patient-provider relationships.

“Some operations simply require an in-person assessment. We think the key is designing our tools for online care and developing appropriate standards for adequate online assessment so that providers can determine when online care is adequate and when in-person care may be needed,” lead study author Kristy Kummerow Broman, MD, MPH, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, in a research letter published in JAMA Surgery, on which Dr Kummerow Broman was a co-author, a study of telehealth postoperative visits among veterans determined that telehealth can adequately identify whether veterans require in-person assessment or further care.

A total of 23 veterans completed 3 types of postoperative visits: telephone, in-person, and video. According to the researchers, there was no instances in which providers failed to detect a wound or postoperative complication via phone or video. Furthermore, a majority of veterans preferred the telehealth option: 39% preferred the telephone and 30% preferred video. Those who preferred the telehealth visit had to travel farther than those who preferred in-person visits.

“This has implications for waitlist management, costs, and access to care for veterans and the Veterans Affairs health care system,” the authors concluded.