Telehealth Appears to be Safe Substitute for Postoperative Clinic Visit for Selected Ambulatory Surgery Patients

Telehealth can be safely used with selected ambulatory patients as a substitute for the standard postoperative clinic visit with a high degree of patient satisfaction, according to a study by Kimberly Hwa, M.M.S. P.A-C., and Sherry M. Wren, M.D., of the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Health Care System, California.

A total of 115 patients who had open hernia repair and 26 patients who had laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) participated in telehealth postoperative follow-up program, instead of a traditional clinic visit, during a 10-month study period between October 2011 and October 2012. Patients were called two weeks after surgery by a physician assistant and assessed using a scripted template.

Seventy-eight percent (110) of all patients were successfully contacted; of those, 70.8 percent (63 patients) of hernia patients and 90.5 percent (19 patients) of cholecystectomy patients accepted telehealth as the sole means of follow-up. Complications in the telehealth patients were zero for cholecystectomy and 4.8 percent (3 patients) for herniorrhaphy (surgical repair of a hernia). Nearly all patients expressed great satisfaction with the telephone follow-up method. Time and travel expense for patients were reduced and the freed up clinic time was used to schedule other patients, according to the study results.

“This pilot study demonstrated that a scripted telehealth visit by an allied health professional can be safely and effectively used for the postoperative care of open herniorrhaphy and laparoscopic cholecystectomy patients,” the authors conclude.

(JAMA Surgery. Published online July 10, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2013.2672.