Telehealth follow-up after cholecystectomy is safe in veterans

Surg Endosc. 2023 Apr;37(4):3201-3207. doi: 10.1007/s00464-022-09501-6. Epub 2022 Aug 16.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges including barriers to delivering high-quality surgical care and follow-up while minimizing the risk of infection. Telehealth has been increasingly utilized for post-operative visits, yet little data exists to guide surgeons in its use. We sought to determine safety and efficacy of telehealth follow-up in patients undergoing cholecystectomy during the global pandemic at a VA Medical Center (VAMC).

Methods: This was a retrospective review of patients undergoing cholecystectomy at a level 1A VAMC over a 2-year period from August 2019 to August 2021. Baseline demographics, post-operative complications, readmissions, emergency department (ED) visits and need for additional procedures were reviewed. Patients who experienced a complication prior to discharge, underwent a concomitant procedure, had non-absorbable skin closure, had new diagnosis of malignancy or were discharged home with drain(s) were ineligible for telehealth follow-up and excluded.

Results: Over the study period, 179 patients underwent cholecystectomy; 30 (17%) were excluded as above. 20 (13%) missed their follow-up, 52 (35%) were seen via telehealth and 77 (52%) followed-up in person. There was no difference between the two groups regarding baseline demographics or intra-operative variables. There was no significant difference in post-operative complications [4 (8%) vs 6 (8%), p > 0.99], ED utilization [5 (10%) vs 7 (9%), p = 0.78], 30-day readmission [3 (6%) vs 6 (8%), p = 0.74] or need for additional procedures [2 (4%) vs 4 (5%), p = 0.41] between telehealth and in-person follow-up.

Conclusion: Telehealth follow-up after cholecystectomy is safe and effective in Veterans. There were no differences in outcomes between patients that followed up in-person vs those that were seen via phone or video. Routine telehealth follow-up after uncomplicated cholecystectomy should be considered for all patients.

Keywords: Acute care surgery; Cholecystectomy; Telehealth; Telemedicine; Veteran.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Cholecystectomy
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control
  • Telemedicine*
  • Veterans*