Online postoperative care is preferred over in-person care by a majority of patients who have routine, uncomplicated surgery, a new study finds.
The study included 50 patients who had both online and in-person care visits after elective gallbladder removal or hernia repair. Seventy-six percent said online care was acceptable as the only form of followup.
For 68 percent of the patients, online and in-person visits were equally effective, according to authors of the study published online Sept. 23 in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
The researchers approached the study wondering whether postoperative care always needed to take place in-person, or whether online visits could sometimes be used, said lead author Dr. Kristy Kummerow Broman. She is a general surgical resident at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
Patients in the study uploaded images of their incision sites to a secure, online portal, and their surgeons responded to the patients’ photos and symptom reports. Patients and surgeons did not need to be online at the same time.
The researchers wrote that the study identified potential advantages of online care, “including convenient access for patients, decreased patient travel times, and surgeon efficiency gains.” They added, however, that “these [benefits] 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.”
They said some operations require an in-person assessment. “We think the key is designing our tools for online care and developing appropriate standards for adequate online assessment so that providers can determine when online care is adequate and when in-person care may be needed,” Kummerow Broman said.
She noted that the study was designed to assess patient acceptance of online postoperative care, not to measure safety or quality of care.
“We wanted to first establish whether this method is something that patients wanted, and now that we feel we have done so, we are continuing our research in this area trying to develop ways to measure safety and quality,” Kummerow Broman said.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about postoperative care.