Follow-up telehealth visits have proved to be highly effective during the COVID-19 pandemic and demonstrates that surgical practices can continue to thrive with the help of telemedicine during the pandemic, according to a study looking at patient volume from Stony Brook Medicine's Bariatric and Metabolic Weight Loss Center. The study, ‘The Impact of Telemedicine Adoption on a Multidisciplinary Bariatric Surgery Practice During the COVID-19 Pandemic’, published in the Annals of Surgery, sought to show how full-time telemedicine adoption has impacted patient visit volume and attendance in a comprehensive metabolic and weight loss centre.
"Embracing telemedicine has been extremely effective for our practice and certainly can be for other practices during this pandemic," said Dr Aurora D Pryor, lead author on the paper, Director of the Bariatric and Metabolic Weight Loss Center, and Professor of Surgery at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. "Our patients and multiple healthcare providers involved in metabolic health and bariatric surgery services find telemedicine to be effective, because in-person care is not necessary for certain aspects of patient care and follow-up, and telemedicine saves time and reduces exposure risks for patients and providers alike."
The study researchers recorded patient volume categorised as pre-telehealth and post-telehealth periods of a similar time range from February to April 2020. Post-telehealth is when the practice incorporated telehealth services according to pandemic guidelines.
A total of 506 patient visits were recorded in the pre-telehealth period, with 162 new patient visits and 344 follow-ups. A total of 413 patients were recorded in the post-telehealth period, with 77 new patient visits and 336 follow-ups.
After telehealth implementation, new visits for surgeons did decrease by 75 percent over the period, and follow-ups surgical visits decreased by 55 percent. However, during telehealth there was a 27 percent increase for other non-surgical practitioners involved in the Bariatric and Metabolic Weight Loss Center practice, an indication that patients have been able to continue their care to a high degree post-surgery or before elective surgery. Dietitians experienced higher rates of absenteeism with new patient visits (10.00% vs 31.42%, p=0.0128), whereas bariatricians experienced a decrease in follow-up visit absenteeism (33.33% vs 0%, p=0.0093).
Pryor explained that this increase in patient follow-up visits for certain services was because telemedicine practices may prove to help bariatric surgery practices, and potentially other surgical practices, in their overall care of patients during the pandemic - especially since elective surgical practices have been profoundly impacted by the pandemic.
“The abrupt onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic forced a dramatic shift from in-person clinic visits to entirely virtual telehealth clinics in a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, bariatric clinic,” the authors concluded. “Although new patient visit volume decreased across the board, follow-up visits increased for certain nonsurgical providers, providing a template for adoption of a multidisciplinary telehealth clinic in a post-pandemic world.”
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