CHICAGO, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Patients who have routine, uncomplicated surgeries prefer to have their postoperative visits done online, rather than go to a doctor's office in person, according to a new study.
While the study is small, telemedicine has been previously shown as one way to bring down the cost of healthcare, in addition to being an effective way to treat patients when used in the most appropriate circumstances.
Researchers and medical professionals say telemedicine can not only be a more convenient way for patients to be evaluated by their doctors, but that technology can help doctors to pack more time with patients into their increasingly busy schedules.
"Some operations simply require an in-person assessment," said Dr. Kummerow Broman, a resident physician in general surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in a press release. "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."
In the study, conducted at Vanderbilt between May and December 2014, researchers worked with 50 patients who completed both in-person and online visits with their doctors. Most patients -- 76 percent -- found the online visits were acceptable as their only postoperative follow-up.
Patients were asked to complete surveys about symptoms and submit pictures of wounds to a private online patient portal after undergoing elective laparoscopic cholecystectomy, laparoscopic ventral hernia repair, umbilical hernia repair, or inguinal hernia repair by 1 of 5 surgeons at the hospital.
For 68 percent of the patients, surgeons at the hospital said both visit types were equally as effective. They note that for 24 percent of patients in-person visits were more effective, while online visits were more effective just 8 percent of the time.
In the online visits, no complications in patient's conditions were missed. Online visits were found to be much faster for patients, decreasing the average 103 minutes for an in-person visit to about 15 minutes online. For surgeons, 5 minutes of consultation with patients was also seen as an improvement over what would take about 10 minutes in person.
Although further research and evaluation will need to be done to decipher the specific procedures and conditions that can effectively be evaluated, treated and followed-up online, the researchers said the doctors generally were satisfied with the concept.
"By the end, all of our surgeons saw utility in the concept of online care," Broman said.