Surgical follow-ups just got easier

Those who’ve had a surgical procedure know that it often requires a lot of time away from work and family. In an effort to ease that issue, and make the post-op process more convenient for his patients, Michael Grabowski, MD, PPG – General Surgery, recently introduced a new option for follow-up after surgery: virtual visits.

Dr. Grabowski performs mostly general surgery, advanced minimally invasive and laparoscopic surgeries, and serves as the physician executive over Surgery for Parkview Health. While the health system has been participating in telehealth initiatives for more than a decade, it’s been in recent years that specialties like cardiology have taken advantage of the benefits and introduced virtual consultations. In the primary care space, patients can utilize Parkview OnDemand for access to fast, convenient care for general, mild health concerns as well. Now, Dr. Grabowski is excited to bring the technology to the population he serves.

Making the case for virtual visits

“If I’m on vacation in Chicago, and I want a dinner reservation, I can pull out my phone and get one. There are unique roadblocks with healthcare, but still,” Dr. Grabowski said, “there's so much low-hanging fruit for where a hospital, healthcare system or doctor can leverage telehealth to make access better, make the experience better or to provide services that they want to provide.”

One of the main motivators to utilize the technology, Dr. Grabowski believes, is the prospect of eliminating a commute. “The biggest thing I see in Fort Wayne, having been here nearly 20 years, is patients in Huntington, Warsaw or Van Wert, Ohio, want to access services, but for them, taking off a day of work and driving an hour is a very big deal,” he said. “How do we solve some of these basic issues? The technology is there. It's just a matter of getting adoption and finding where it fits in what we all do.”

For most patients, the post-op follow-up is fairly brief, which makes it a simple step to do in a virtual space. “We can make a more convenient option,” Max Maile, vice president, Virtual Health, said. “Particularly if a patient is stable and everything looks good. This could save them from driving in for a 2-5-minute check. Sometimes, it’s uncomfortable to drive after surgery. If there’s no obvious pain or infection, we can establish that video visit and provide care that way.”

How it works

Patients will need an active MyChart account and the MyChart app. They can have their virtual visit on any phone, iPad or laptop equipped with a camera. “It’s very much like FaceTime®,” Max explained. “It’s a simple interface with a secure connection.”

The first step is to schedule the appointment. When it’s time for the appointment, you go into the digital waiting room while a virtual, private room is created, allowing both parties to connect. To protect patient privacy, MyChart creates a secure connection on the Parkview network, making the visit compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. From there, it is like any other checkup.

“They can show me their wounds if they have them, we can discuss what's going on and essentially summarize future needs,” Dr. Grabowski said. “I can show them their pathology report, their x-rays or things that we need to go over. It’s so convenient. Allowing people to immediately contact their doctor, and actually talk to them, see them and have their wounds looked at, keeps people out of the emergency room and other costly things.”

Audience

“I think initially it’s going to be for those tech-savvy people who want to try something different,” Dr. Grabowski said. “I have patients that come in and say, 'Well, that was kind of a waste of time, and I had to drive all the way in.' It will appeal to that niche of people. It won't be for everybody. And that’s OK! There’s still something to be said for the relationships you build during a traditional office visit that can’t be done wirelessly, and we recognize that. The audience will evolve and I just can’t wait to see where it goes.”

While you might think virtual visits are predominantly geared toward the younger generations, think again. “From what we see from our other specialties, it's not just 20-year-olds using this. They may think of telehealth first, as an option. They may search out the resources first,” Max said, “but typically, when offered, the 50-and-older patients are very eager to try this. Part of this is just attributed to general consumption of healthcare. They see doctors more frequently, and they need that convenience factor.”

Surgery and the future

Eventually, Dr. Grabowski hopes to implement virtual consults before the procedure as well. “There are a lot of patients who get referred that, even before they come for their first visit, I can look at what’s been done and tell they will need bloodwork, x-rays, tests and so on. Taking care of that in a virtual space would save them from feeling like we wasted their time and lay the groundwork for their procedure. We can maximize the efficiency of everything we do. Anything we can do to create value, and reduce cost and increase outcomes is important.”

When it comes to the potential for virtual healthcare, Dr. Grabowski is thinking about the entire patient journey, and feeling very optimistic. “This technology could be good for second opinions and referrals. Just to have the availability to interface with a doctor is huge. People start searching the internet and a lot of the information they find can be easily misconstrued. This technology would make it so that they could talk to a doctor and get basic factual information, which would create so much value and save them from going down the wrong path. It would save so much waste and unnecessary worry.”

The physician believes it would also be a great tool for peer-to-peer collaboration. “This technology is a value from both the patient standpoint and provider standpoint. My hope is to eventually use is to connect with other physicians. There’s a wide variability in doctors’ procedure times and outcomes across all healthcare. Establishing a live mentorship program through virtual technology could help to narrow that variability and increase physician connection. I could provide a physician assistance without actually being in the OR with them, which is of great value.”

 

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