Telehealth after surgery proves effective in low-risk cases

Telehealth follow-up to ambulatory surgery can be as effective as an in-person visit in some cases, according to a study at JAMA Surgery that also found the tactic saves time and money and improves patient satisfaction.

The study followed 115 patients who underwent elective open hernia repair and 26 who had laparoscopic gall bladder removal at the VA Palo Alto Hospital in California. These two procedures were chosen because potential complications are well-known and infrequent. Patients tend to have few issues requiring acute medical attention during follow-up visits.

A physician's assistant called patients two weeks after surgery using a scripted template that covered overall health, pain, fever, incision appearance, activity level and any patient concerns.

Sixty-three hernia patients and 19 gall bladder patients accepted telehealth as the sole means of follow-up. There were no complications among the gall bladder patients who took part in the telehealth follow-up; three hernia patients (4.8 percent) who accepted telehealth follow-up later had problems, one of which led to hospitalization.

Nearly all the patients expressed satisfaction with the telephone follow-up method, according to the study. Participants said time saved on travel was a big benefit, since the average round-trip travel distance for these patients was about 140 miles.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, in an initiative launched last year, called for more innovative use of technology to improve follow-up care after hospitalization.

Telehealth has been cited for its potential to keep patients out of the hospital. Ottawa Hospital in Canada uses an automated phone system to improve patients' medication adherence and to flag adverse reactions, for example.

A study from HealthPartners Research Foundation in Minnesota found that phone calls with pharmacists and home telemonitoring helped improve blood pressure management.

To learn more:
- read the research
- here's the MedPage Today article

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