A Longitudinal Comparison of Telemedicine Versus In-Person Otolaryngology Clinic Efficiency and Patient Satisfaction During COVID-19

Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2021 Dec 3;34894211055349. doi: 10.1177/00034894211055349. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Telemedicine was increasingly adopted in otolaryngology as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but how it compares to in-person visits over the longitudinal course of the pandemic has not been characterized. This study compares telemedicine visits to in-person visits on measures of clinical efficiency and patient satisfaction.

Methods: We examined all in-person and telemedicine encounters that occurred during the 13-month period from April 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021 at a pediatric otolaryngology clinic associated with a large tertiary care children's hospital. We compared patient demographics, primary encounter diagnoses, completions, cancellations, no-shows, cycle time, and patient satisfaction.

Results: A total of 19 541 (90.5%) in-person visits and 2051 (9.5%) telemedicine visits were scheduled over the study period. There was no difference in patient age or gender between the visit types. There was a difference in race (75% White or Caucasian for in-person and 73% for telemedicine, P = .007) and average travel distance (53.3 miles for in-person vs 71.0 for telemedicine, P = .000). The most common primary diagnosis was Eustachian tube dysfunction for in-person visits (11.8%) and sleep disordered breathing for telemedicine visits (13.7%). Completion rate was greater for telemedicine visits (52.4% in-person vs 62.5% telemedicine). Cancellations were greater for in-person visits (42.6% in-person vs 24.2% telemedicine), but no-shows were greater for telemedicine (5.0% in-person vs 13.3% telemedicine, all P = .000). Average cycle time was shorter for telemedicine visits (56.5 minutes in-person vs 47.6 minutes telemedicine, P = .000). Patient satisfaction with provider interactions and overall care experience was high for both visit types.

Conclusions: Telemedicine was utilized more during months of heightened COVID-19 cases, with higher completion rates, fewer cancellations, shorter cycle times, saved travel distance, and comparable patient satisfaction to in-person visits. Telemedicine has the potential to remain an efficient mode of care delivery in the post-pandemic era.

Keywords: COVID-19; miscellaneous; patient satisfaction; pediatric otolaryngology; telemedicine; video visit.