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Telemedicine implementation trends in surgical specialties before and after COVID-19 shelter in place: Adjusting to a changing landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a shift from in-person care to telemedicine, providing a unique opportunity to evaluate trends and efficiency of telemedicine usage within surgical subspecialties in a large, integrated health care system before and after shelter in place mandates. This retrospective cohort study included all of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California members referred to surgical services from January 1, 2019 to June 13, 2020 and receiving a surgical procedure. We compared the patient referrals (categorized as benign, urgent, or cancer) before and after shelter in place mandates, and we examined rates of telemedicine (video or telephone) usage for preoperative consultations, postoperative visits, time from referral to first surgical encounter, and to surgery or procedure. In multivariate analyses, we assessed the patient and provider characteristics associated with telemedicine usage. There was a total of 34,875 surgical referrals resulting in a procedure, with a significant decline in referral after shelter in place mandates. Preoperative encounter types shifted from 89.8% in-person before shelter in place mandates to 70.2% telemedicine after shelter in place mandates (P < .0001). The median time from referral to first encounter decreased after shelter in place mandates, as did median time to procedure. After shelter in place mandates, postoperative encounters were mainly telemedicine (65.8%) compared with before shelter in place mandates (41.7%) (P < .0001). Overall, there was a comparable uptake of telemedicine usage in almost all evaluated categories of patient characteristics after shelter in place mandates. Within a health care system with prior telemedicine capability, surgical specialties were able to shift to telemedicine rapidly, equitably, and efficiently in the preoperative and postoperative encounters of benign, urgent, and cancer diagnosis during mandated COVID-19 restrictions.

Authors: Kuehner, Gillian; Wu, Weilu; Choe, Giye; Douaiher, Jeffrey; Reed, Mary

Surgery. 2022 Nov;172(5):1471-1477. Epub 2022-06-13.

PubMed abstract

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