Recent research in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons suggests that while in-person consultations with surgeons are critical to preparing appropriate care, virtual consultations are a convenient, effective tool for shared decision-making.
With recently enacted cuts to Medicare threatening patient access to surgical care in communities across the US and a growing awareness of the impact of disparities in access to surgery due to socioeconomic issues, telemedicine has emerged as potential aid to help patients establish high-quality communication with surgeons.
The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a rapid expansion of the use of telemedicine visits, which allows patients and their healthcare teams to meet remotely through secure video-based platforms.
“Across the entire healthcare system, we now do about 20,000 telehealth visits a month. Previously, there had been concerns about whether we could effectively communicate with patients remotely, but we found that patients are just as satisfied with telehealth visits as in-person appointments,” said study co-author Alexander T. Hawkins, MD, MPH, FACS, associate professor of surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN.
However, since telehealth visits do not allow for in-office physical exams, there are situations when it’s not appropriate. To that end, some surgeons reported that telemedicine should be used for follow-up care, after they have already established the relationship, instead of for first-time consultations.
Future research will include more in-depth studies to identify a condition-by-condition guide for when telemedicine should be used and to see when telehealth is more appropriate for follow-up care.