Telehealth in Plastic Surgery: A Veterans Affairs Hospital Perspective

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Abstract

Background:

Telemedicine is a rapidly growing tool since its invention in the 1950s. Recently, it has expanded to the field of plastic surgery. In the Connecticut VA System, there is 1 plastic surgeon at a central location for the state of Connecticut and southern Massachusetts. Our aim was to pilot a telehealth program for plastic surgery consultation within the VA to improve access to subspecialty care. We intend to discuss the value of telehealth as part of consultation services, and assess patient attitudes toward telemedicine.

Methods:

Patients in the Connecticut VA System referred for plastic surgery consultation for evaluation of nonurgent diagnoses, such as skin lesions, carpal tunnel syndrome, and chronic wounds, were invited to participate. After being appropriately consented according to Connecticut state law, patients completed a postvisit questionnaire rating their overall satisfaction, quality of interaction, and ability to communicate using a modified 10-point Likert scale. Means were calculated for numerical responses. Preference for future telehealth visits was reported as a percentage.

Results:

Forty-one of 44 eligible patients elected to participate. Of those patients, 83% (n = 34) stated they prefer telemedicine services for future visits. Patients rated overall satisfaction 9.2/10, overall quality of interaction 9.2/10, ability to communicate 9.3/10, and sound and video quality 8.6/10 and 9.0/10, respectively.

Conclusion:

Remote video telemedicine is a feasible method of plastic surgery consultation and results in high patient satisfaction. Further studies should focus on cost-effectiveness and ways to broaden the use of telehealth services in plastic surgery.

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