If you visited your doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have seen him/her virtually on your computer screen. Two-way audio and visual communications are called telehealth or telemedicine, and it’s not surprising that they can take a lot less overall time than an in-person appointment. Recent research also confirms that videos are efficient…and satisfying, especially for patients after surgery.

Important recent finding: A new study presented at the 2020 virtual American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress finds that virtual visits are working well for both doctors and patients following certain surgical procedures. This was one of the first studies to look at a comparison of how much time virtual visits save and how much actual time patients spend one-on-one with their surgical care providers.

Study details: For the research, surgeons randomly assigned more than 400 patients to either a virtual or in-person follow-up visit after minimally invasive surgeries (either a laparoscopic gallbladder removal or appendectomy). They recorded the overall time spent for the visit, the actual time spent with the surgical caregiver and patient satisfaction with the visit. Key findings included…

  • Overall time for in-person visits averaged 58 minutes compared with 19 minutes for virtual visits.
  • Patients spent 80% less time checking in and waiting for virtual visits than in-person visits.
  • Actual time spent with the surgical care provider was the same for both visits, just over eight minutes.
  • Patient satisfaction was similar for both types of visits, 94% versus 98%.

The surgeons said that they were able to check the patient’s incisions visually, answer patient questions and plan additional care as needed during the virtual follow-up visits. Patients were able to save on travel time and do their visits with minimal interruption to their work or need for child care.

Bottom line: The researchers concluded that for certain types of surgical procedures, follow-up virtual visits compare favorably to face-to-face visits.

Source: Study titled “The Value of Time: Analysis of Surgical Post-Discharge Virtual vs. In-Person Visits,” by researchers at Atrium Health, Charlotte, North Carolina, presented at the virtual American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2020.