Virtual follow-up care for surgical patients provides as much face time with doctors as in-person care, according to a new study.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many surgical patients are being offered virtual follow-up appointments instead of in-person visits, the researchers noted.
Their study included 400 patients who had minimally invasive laparoscopic removal of their appendix or gallbladder at two North Carolina hospitals. They were randomly assigned to a post-discharge virtual or in-person visit.
The study began in August 2017 but was put on hold in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only 64% of patients completed the follow-up visit.
Lead author Dr. Carolina Reinke said sometimes people are feeling so well after minimally invasive surgery that they don’t bother with the follow-up.
Total clinic time was longer for in-person visits than virtual visits — 58 minutes versus 19 minutes — but patients in both groups spent the same amount of time with a member of their surgical team — 8.3 minutes versus 8.2 minutes — discussing their recovery.
The findings were presented this month at a virtual meeting of the American College of Surgeons. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary.
“I think it’s really valuable for patients to understand that, in the virtual space scenario, they are still going to get quality time with their surgical team,” said Reinke, an associate professor of surgery at Atrium Health in Charlotte, N.C. “A virtual appointment does not shorten that time, and there is still an ability to answer questions, connect, and address ongoing medical care.”
This is one of the first studies to compare virtual follow-up visits and face-to-face surgery follow-ups, according to the researchers.
“Other studies have looked at the total visit time, but they haven’t been able to break down the specific amount of time the patient spends with the provider. And we wanted to know if that was the same or different between a virtual visit and an in-person visit,” Reinke said.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on telemedicine.
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