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  • Study Shows Preference for Telehealth Visits Post-Op for 'Low Complexity' Surgeries

    A recent small-scale study of veterans is adding support to the idea that the more people are exposed to telehealth—this time in the form of postoperative care—the more they like it.

    In a research letter published in the September 23 edition of JAMA Surgery, authors share the results of a survey of 35 veterans receiving both in-person and telehealth-based postoperative care for "low complexity" surgeries including gall bladder removal, hernia repair, appendectomy (laproscopic), thyroid removal, or soft tissue excision. Authors of the letter described these surgeries as "amenable to postoperative telehealth evaluation."

    After discharge, the veterans received 3 sequential follow-up visits: 1 by telephone, 1 in person, and 1 via videoconferencing that followed a standard rubric addressing general recovery, follow-up needs, wound care needs, and complications.

    A total of 23 veterans completed all 3 phases of the postoperative visits, and among the mostly male, mostly white participants, 69% preferred the telehealth visits (phone and/or video) to the in-person session. Within that group, a little over half preferred the phone visit to the video visit, but both groups said that either telehealth approach would "be adequate" and preferable to an in-person visit.

    Researchers looked at whether travel pay status affected preferences, but found no connection. There was, however, a tendency for veterans who had to travel farther for in-person appointments to prefer the telehealth visits.

    In terms of effectiveness, researchers reported that detection of wound needs or complications was not hindered by the telehealth approaches; and that "there were no instances in which we failed to detect a wound or postoperative complication by telephone or video."

    "The data suggest that telehealth visits … can identify veterans requiring in-person assessment or further care," authors write, adding that if planned follow-up studies support the initial findings, "this has implications for waitlist management, costs, and access to care for veterans and Veterans Affairs health care system."

    In 2014, APTA's House of Delegates approved a resolution that supports the adoption of telehealth technologies in physical therapy as "an appropriate model of service delivery" when provided in ways that are "consistent with association positions, standards, guidelines, policies, procedures, Standards of Practice for Physical Therapy, Code of Ethics for the Physical Therapist, Standards of Ethical Conduct for the Physical Therapist Assistant, the Guide to Physical Therapist Practice, and APTA Telehealth Definitions and Guidelines; as well as federal, state, and local regulations." APTA offers resources on telehealth in physical therapy—including a link to Board of Directors definition and guidelines--on its telehealth webpage.

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

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