In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services pledged payment for telehealth visits for the duration of this public health emergency in an effort to decrease COVID-19 transmission and allow for deployment of residents and attending physicians to support critical-care services. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has vastly expanded telehealth use, no studies to our knowledge have analyzed the implementation and success of telehealth for orthopaedic trauma. This population is unique in that patients who have experienced orthopaedic trauma range in age from early childhood to late adulthood, they vary across the socioeconomic spectrum, may need to undergo emergent or urgent surgery, often have impaired mobility, and, historically, do not always follow-up consistently with healthcare providers.
(1) To what extent did telehealth usage increase for an outpatient orthopaedic trauma clinic at a Level 1 trauma center from the month before the COVID-19 stay-at-home order compared with the month immediately following the order? (2) What is the proportion of no-show visits before and after the implementation of telehealth?
After nonurgent clinic visits were postponed, telehealth visits were offered to all patients due to the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. Patients with internet access who had the ability to download the MyChart application on their mobile device and agreed to a telehealth visit were seen virtually between March 16, 2020 and April 10, 2020 (COVID-19) by three attending orthopaedic trauma surgeons at a large, urban, Level 1 trauma center. Clinic schedules and patient charts were reviewed to determine clinical volumes and no-show proportions. The COVID-19 period was compared with the 4 weeks before March 16, 2020 (pre-COVID-19), when all visits were conducted in-person. The overall clinic volume decreased from 340 to 233 (31%) between the two periods. The median (range) age of telehealth patients was 46 years (20 to 89). Eighty-four percent (72 of 86) of telehealth visits were postoperative and established nonoperative patient visits, and 16% (14 of 86) were new-patient visits. To avoid in-person suture or staple removal, patients seen for their 2-week postoperative visit had either absorbable closures, staples, or nonabsorbable sutures removed by a home health registered nurse or skilled nursing facility registered nurse. If radiographs were indicated, they were obtained at outside facilities or our institution before patients returned home for their telehealth visit.
There was an increase in the percentage of office visits conducted via telehealth between the pre-COVID-19 and COVID-19 periods (0% [0 of 340] versus 37% [86 of 233]; p < 0.001), and by the third week of implementation, telehealth comprised approximately half of all clinic visits (57%; [30 of 53]). There was no difference in the no-show proportion between the two periods (13% [53 of 393] for the pre-COVID-19 period and 14% [37 of 270] for the COVID-19 period; p = 0.91).
Clinicians should consider implementing telehealth strategies to provide high-quality care for patients and protect the workforce during a pandemic. In a previously telehealth-naïve clinic, we show successful implementation of telehealth for a diverse orthopaedic trauma population that historically has issues with mobility and follow-up. Our strategies include postponing long-term follow-up visits, having sutures or staples removed by a home health or skilled nursing facility registered nurse, having patients obtain pertinent imaging before the visit, and ensuring that patients have access to mobile devices and internet connectivity. Future studies should evaluate the incidence of missed infections or stiffness as a result of telehealth, analyze the subset of patients who may be more vulnerable to no-shows or technological failures, and conduct patient surveys to determine the factors that contribute to patient preferences for or against the use of telehealth.
Level of Evidence
Level III, therapeutic study.