Telemedicine in Neurosurgery: Lessons Learned and Transformation of Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic

World Neurosurg. 2020 Jun 5;S1878-8750(20)31224-9. doi: 10.1016/j.wneu.2020.05.251. Online ahead of print.


Background: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine utilization was mostly used for postoperative visits only in neurosurgery. Shelter-in-place measures led the rapid expansion of telemedicine to address the needs of the neurosurgical patient population. Our goal is to determine the extent of adoption of telemedicine across tumor, vascular, spine, and function neurosurgery and utilization for new patient visits.

Methods: A single-center retrospective cohort study of patients who received neurosurgical care at a tertiary academic center from February to April 2020 was conducted. Patients evaluated from March to April 2019 were included for comparison. A total of 10,746 patients were included: 1247 patients underwent surgery, 8742 were seen in clinic via an in-person outpatient visit, and 757 were assessed via telemedicine during the study period.

Results: A 40-fold increase in the use of telemedicine was noted after the shelter-in-place measures were initiated with a significant increase in the mean number of patients evaluated via telemedicine per week across all divisions of neurosurgery (4.5 ± 0.9 to 180.4 ± 13.9, P < 0.001). The majority of telemedicine appointments were established patient visits (61.2%), but the proportion of new patient visits also significantly increased to an average of 8.2 ± 5.3 per week across all divisions.

Conclusions: Use of telemedicine drastically increased across all 4 divisions within neurosurgery with a significant increase in online-first encounters in order to meet the needs of our patients once the shelter-in-place measures were implemented. We provide a detailed account of the lessons learned and discuss the anticipated role of telemedicine in surgical practices once the shelter-in-place measures are lifted.

Keywords: COVID-19; Neurosurgery; Telemedicine.