Surgeons call patient follow-ups via portals, face-to-face 'equally effective'

Online communication via a patient portal was a preferred follow-up method for surgery patients, according to research published online in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

For the study, researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center surveyed 50 patients who underwent one of four "elective general surgical" procedures. Follow-up visits with each patient took place both online, through a patient portal, and in person. For the online visits, patients and providers communicated asynchronously, with the former posting pictures of their surgical wounds on the portal for the latter to view.

More than three-fourths of the patients (76 percent) indicated that online-only follow-up care would be sufficient. They also reported that the online visits were much more time efficient than the in-person visits, with the former taking 15 minutes on average and the latter taking 103 minutes, including travel time.

The surgeons, meanwhile, called both types of visits "equally effective" for 34 of the 50 patients. For 24 percent of the patients, the in-person visit was more effective, according to the surgeons, while the online visit was more effective for 8 percent of the patients, they said.

"This study demonstrated the utility of online postoperative visits as a triage tool for identifying patients who require in-person surgeon assessment," the study's authors, led by Kristy Kummerow Broman, M.D., wrote. "The data revealed potential advantages of online postoperative care ... however, these must be carefully weighed against potential detriments of using patient-generated data to provide clinical assessment, including concerns about liability, provider work burden and modified patient-provider relationships."

Research published earlier this month in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health determined that use of telemedicine significantly cut travel distance and time for patients at the VA Hospital in White River Junction, Vermont, but only resulted in "modest" monetary savings for the VA.

And while this new research weighed the effectiveness of store-and-forward care methods, another study focusing on online follow-up visits from May 2014 reported that patients who received neurological follow-up care via video telehealth were "highly satisfied."

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract