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Telemedicine And Surgical Care: What This Means for the Long-Term

By Tim Callahan19 Oct 2022

Though it may seem counterintuitive, telemedicine can be applied to surgical care in a variety of ways. As more and more patients take advantage of telemedicine offerings, understanding how this technology can be used in your surgical practice can provide a myriad of benefits. 

Here’s what you should know about telemedicine and surgical care and what this technology means for the long term. 

Before the pandemic, Abdulmajid Asiri, et al, investigated the use of telemedicine in surgical care. Here is what they found:

The Most Common Uses of Telemedicine in Surgical Care

Asiri, et al, found that telemedicine technologies were most widely used for pre- and post-op consultations and monitoring as well as for surgical cross-border education.

Asiri’s team looked at 24 studies and concluded: “In 1998, Robie et al. found that telemedicine provided an accurate diagnosis for neonatal surgical consultations (9). Bullard et al. reported that mobile-phone images of CT scans appeared to be sufficient for neurosurgeons to make decisions about their patients and reduced the need to transfer patients from referring hospitals by 30–50% (10). 

Another study found that using telemedicine for postoperative follow-up after cleft lip/cleft palate repair saved significant travel time and distance while allowing access to specialty services within a larger radius than would be possible for a clinical appointment (11). Furthermore, Urquhart et al. reported that telemedicine for routine postoperative follow-up after parathyroidectomy was safe and effective (12).

In addition to the uses discussed above, patients who live in rural areas without quick access to surgical teams can have exams performed via their physician using telehealth tools. This information, like heart rate, blood pressure or findings on palpation can be securely and quickly transmitted to the surgical team.

Telemedicine in the Time of COVID-19

The pandemic made telehealth commonplace for patients and providers. Patients were able to get the medical care they needed during times of lockdown and illness without leaving their homes. 

The American College of Surgeons notes that complex referrals or second opinions are particularly well suited for telemedicine use. While some preoperative examinations should be performed in person, many can be done virtually. 

Follow-up visits are also well suited to telemedicine use: “A recent randomized controlled trial demonstrated that postoperative virtual visits following urgent minimally invasive surgery were more convenient for patients and not associated with higher post-discharge care use than in-person follow-up visits,” FACS writes.

The Future of Telemedicine in Surgical Care

Though it appears telemedicine is here to stay, your practice and patients may encounter barriers to its successful use. 

These barriers could include:

  • Cost
  • Confusion regarding reimbursement procedures and processes
  • Legal liability concerns
  • Resistance to change
  • Privacy and data security concerns

 

Patients, especially older patients, may encounter telemedicine barriers like:

  • Lack of Wi-Fi
  • Resistance to change
  • Lack of technology needed for a proper telemedicine appointment

 

To better prepare your patients for telehealth appointments, it may be helpful to have another person in the room with the patient to help with taking photos or troubleshooting technology issues. If there is no wifi or wifi is unstable, ask the patient to have a phone handy.

Telehealth Innovations to Watch

Bluetooth technologies: Smartphone apps can provide valuable patient health information. In addition, bluetooth enabled devices like scales, blood pressure or glucose monitors are becoming more commonplace and can add more information to a patient’s health picture.

Consultations: In rural areas, disease specific experts may not be readily available to consult on cases. Telemedicine technology can provide the opportunity for consults. 

“Telemedicine provides the opportunity for real-time, peer-to-peer consultation. With the increasing availability of more sophisticated equipment and telecommunication platforms, remote one-on-one intraoperative telementoring also is feasible. Future ACS-based programs could include real-time support from a panel of surgical experts or even formal evaluation of skills as surgeons look to document their expertise and expand their certification,” FACS writes.

As telemedicine technologies develop and patients’ expectations and needs evolve, being aware of how telehealth can improve patient experience and boost your practice. 

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