Otorhinolaryngology Virtual Visits During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A 2-Year Follow-Up Study

Telemed J E Health. 2023 May;29(5):665-673. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2022.0305. Epub 2022 Sep 16.


Objective: To clarify how successful virtual visits were in different age groups and subspecialties of otorhinolaryngology during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a 2-year follow-up. Methods: We examined the progress of treatment and need for face-to-face follow-ups in a retrospective setting. Case records of all the visits marked as virtual between March and June 2020 in Helsinki University Hospital Department of Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (ORL-HNS) were reviewed. Results: Among 865 virtual visits, 71.2% (n = 616) clearly advanced treatment, 53.8% (n = 465) needed no face-to-face follow-up, and only 9.0% (n = 78) were followed by an unplanned visit within 6 months. Statistically significant differences were detected among different subspecialties and age groups. Virtual visits achieved clear progress of treatment most frequently in laryngology (119/149 visits, 79.9%) and in head and neck surgery (69/83 visits, 83.1%). Laryngology patients required the least face-to-face follow-ups (n = 38 scheduled, 25.5% of laryngology visits). Most visits with clear progress involved 18-29-year-olds (n = 100, 80.0%) and they also required least face-to-face follow-ups (n = 39, 31.2%). During the 6-month to 2-year follow-up, 82 patients (9.6%) contacted our clinic directly for outpatient treatment, 28 patients (3.3%) called or visited the emergency department, and 37 patients (4.3%) were referred to the ORL-HNS clinic again for the same issue. Conclusion: Virtual visits were beneficial for treatment of otorhinolaryngology patients, and unplanned visits afterward were rare. Differences in effectiveness among subspecialties suggest that the utility of telemedicine applications can be enhanced by examining more closely which patient and ailment characteristics favor virtual visits.

Keywords: emergency visits; telemedicine; unplanned visits; virtual visits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Otolaryngology*
  • Pandemics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Telemedicine*