Hate it or love it, telehealth is undoubtedly on the rise. As technology is implemented in the healthcare field, many have questioned whether telehealth services are truly effective in treating patients.
A new study in JAMA Surgery found that ambulatory surgery patients who used a mobile app for a post-surgery exam were less likely than those who didn’t to make an in-person follow-up visit.
The study was conducted among 65 female participants between February 1 and August 31, 2015. The women had all undergone breast reconstruction surgery at at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The patients were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The 32 women in the first group utilized a mobile app to receive follow-up care during the first 30 days after surgery. The 33 women in the second group received follow-up care via a traditional in-person visit in the first 30 days post-surgery.
The results? Patients in the first group (the mobile app group) attended an average of 0.66 in-person follow-up visits during the first month after surgery, while patients in the second group (the in-person group) attended an average of 1.64 in-person visits. Patients in the first group also sent more emails (0.65 on average compared to 0.15 for patients in the second group) to their healthcare providers during the first month after surgery.
Patients in the first group also reported higher care convenience scores than those in the second group. In fact, 31 patients (97 percent) in the first group either agreed or strongly agreed that the type of follow-up care they received was convenient. In the second group, only 16 patients (48 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that the type of care they received was convenient.
There was not a significant difference in the number of telephone calls patients in each group made to their providers. During the first month after surgery, patients in the mobile app group made an average of 0.30 calls, compared to an average of 0.31 calls for patients in the in-person group. There also was not a notable difference in the complication rates or satisfaction scores of patients in either group.
“Patients undergoing ambulatory breast reconstruction can use follow-up care via a mobile app to avert in-person follow-up visits during the first 30 days after the operation,” the study concluded. “Mobile app follow-up care affects neither complication rates nor patient-reported satisfaction scores, but it improves patient-reported convenience scores.”
Although the JAMA Surgery study boasts the positive results of telehealth, a recent RAND Corporation study wasn’t as positive. The RAND study, which came out in early March, found that direct-to-consumer telehealth services could drive up medical spending because they often initiate the use of new medical services.
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