Telemedicine in orthopaedics and its potential applications during COVID-19 and beyond: A systematic review

J Telemed Telecare. 2020 Aug 6;1357633X20938241. doi: 10.1177/1357633X20938241. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Telemedicine is the delivery of healthcare from a remote location using integrated computer/communication technology. The current COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased adoption of telemedicine with national orthopaedic governing bodies advocating its use, as evidence suggests that social distancing maybe necessary until 2022. This systematic review aims to explore evidence for telemedicine in orthopaedics to determine its advantages, validity, effectiveness and utilisation.

Methods: Databases of PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus and CINAHL were systematically searched and articles were included if they involved any form of telephone or video consultation in an orthopaedic population. Findings were synthesised into four themes: patient/clinician satisfaction, accuracy and validity of examination, safety and patient outcomes and cost effectiveness. Quality assessment was undertaken using Cochrane and Joanna Briggs Institute appraisal tools.

Results: Twenty-one studies were included consisting of nine randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Studies revealed high patient satisfaction with telemedicine for convenience, less waiting and travelling time. Telemedicine was cost effective particularly if patients had to travel long distances, required hospital transport or time off work. No clinically significant differences were found in patient examination nor measurement of patient-reported outcome measures. Telemedicine was reported to be a safe method of consultation.

Discussion: Evidence suggests that telemedicine in orthopaedics can be safe, cost effective, valid in clinical assessment and with high patient/clinician satisfaction. However, more high-quality RCTs are required to elucidate long-term outcomes. This systematic review presents up-to-date evidence on the use of telemedicine and provides data for organisations considering its use in the current COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Keywords: Teleconsulting; remote consultation; telehealth; telemedicine.