April 5, 2021

Use of telehealth by surgical specialties before, during COVID-19

By: Judy Mathias
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Editor's Note

This study led by the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, finds that early in the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a substantial increase in telehealth use across all surgical specialties, with a slow decline after June 2020.

Of 4,405 surgeons included in the study, 2,588 (58.8%) used telehealth in any patient care context, and 1,182 (26.85) used telehealth specifically for new patient visits.


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The study included 3 periods—period 1, January 5 to March 7, 2020; period 2, March 8 to June 6, 2020; and period 3, June 7 to September 5, 2020.

Among the findings:

  • Less than 1% of new patient visits were conducted via telehealth before March 2020.
  • Telehealth use peaked in April 2020, with use in 34.6% of all new patient visits in week 14.
  • During period 2, a mean of 16.6% of all new patient surgical visits were conducted via telehealth.
  • During period 3, a mean of 3.0% of all new patient surgical visits were conducted via telehealth.

The researchers also found a significant variation between surgical specialties in telehealth conversion, with the highest rates in urology and neurosurgery.

These trends in telehealth use should continue to be followed after the public health emergency, the researchers conclude.

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