It’s a basic part of medical care for patients to undergo follow-up consultations with their doctors following surgery. According to a pilot study from Vanderbilt University that looked into ways to optimize the process, researchers found that there is sufficient patient support for performing post-op consultations over the Internet, as opposed to in-person meetings with their surgeons.
Post-operative care is based on making sure the surgery accomplished its intended objective, that the surgical wound is healing properly, and that no other complications have arisen. Although “telemedicine” (the use of the Internet for various doctor-patient functions) has increased, few online tools have been incorporated into post-operative care.
For the study, an online portal was created so patients and doctors could interact and relay health data. The study involved 50 patients who had undergone gallbladder removal and hernia repair operations. Using the portal, these patients could be in contact with their surgeons and upload images taken of their wounds using a tablet, smartphone, or webcam. Approximately 76% of patients said that online visits were acceptable as the sole form of follow-up care, while 68% of surgeons reported online and in-person visits to be equally useful.
Though promising, the Vanderbilt researchers acknowledge several limitations to the study. Although efficiency and convenience gains were highlighted, the benefits need to be weighed against the use of patient-generated data (the wound images), liability concerns, and the modifications the arrangement places on patient-provider relationships. The surgeries covered by the study were also relatively uncomplicated and other types of operations would be less suited to using online post-operative care.
As a pilot study, the main focus was essentially to determine “proof of concept”—whether there was enough patient and surgeon acceptance of online post-operative care to warrant further development. With that interest confirmed, further research is planned to establish ways of assessing safety and quality, and determining appropriate standards for online post-operative assessments.
The study has been accepted by the Journal of the American College of Surgeons and is currently available online. It will be published in the print edition of the journal later this year.
Source for Today’s Article:
Broman, K., et al., “Postoperative Care Using a Secure Online Patient Portal: Changing the (inter)Face of General Surgery,” Journal of the American College of Surgeons 2015, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2015.08.429.