AUA Residents and Fellows Committee News: Forward Movement of Telemedicine and Teleconferences in 2021
By: Karan K. Arora, MD | Posted on: 01 May 2021
As we pass a year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we reflect not only on the hardships faced by our communities and health care systems, but also on the lessons that we learned during this era as trainees. From canceled educational conferences and seminars to holding surgical cases and social gatherings virtually, we have all strived as residents to adapt to these changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the most prominent new realities that changes the shape of our practice and education is telemedicine and “teleducation.” The need for strict social distancing during the earliest phases of this unprecedented situation resulted in the emergence of telemedicine as a way to care for patients across many specialties. Telemedicine was heavily utilized in other nonclinical specialties such as radiology or pathology, but it wasn’t as prominent in urology. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 15.8% of urologists were actively using telemedicine. Poor adaptation of telemedicine was primarily due to inadequate reimbursement.1 However, quick legislative changes took place and urologists were quick to incorporate telemedicine in their respective institutions.
From a training perspective, social distancing, travel limitations, decreased surgical workloads and the necessity of continued training placed residents and training programs between a rock and a hard place. Many residents train at tertiary referral centers, and our patients come from a wide array of geographical locations to receive medical care. Telemedicine has allowed us to provide the same care to these patients in remote regions. At the start of the pandemic, telemedicine was quickly integrated in multiple practices for visits including but not limited to initial consults and to discuss pathology reports. Many institutions incorporated HIPAA compliant platforms such as Zoom for Healthcare or Skype for Business for both patient visits and medical conferences.2
What was thought to be unacceptable in the past shed the light on some previously unseen advantages. Virtual visits have decreased patient wait times and has allowed patients to have family members present during difficult discussions. Multiple family members from remote geographical locations were able to join these discussions. Social support is paramount when discussing new diagnoses and treatment options, and virtual visits have allowed this support to continue when visitors were not allowed in the clinic. With a shift toward increased telehealth, there has been a parallel increase in patient satisfaction.3 Now, as case numbers begin to plateau, many institutions continue to use telemedicine as a primary means to conduct visits with patients. As we move forward and begin to have more comparable reimbursements, there is no doubt that telemedicine will continue to be at the forefront of urological patient visits as 80.9% of urologists report they will continue to use telemedicine in the future.1
Weekly educational conferences were also moved to an online platform early during the pandemic. With the use of secure platforms, journal clubs, tumor boards and imaging conferences were able to be conducted in a socially distanced manner. As trainees, we learned to navigate through screen sharing efficiently to keep conferences moving. This technological shift allowed off-campus trainees and consultants to join educational conferences remotely. With the continued growth of virtual educational conferences, trainees have had the ability to remotely attend lectures by urology experts around the world.
Moving forward in 2021 we continue to witness the marvels of scientific research with the development of the COVID-19 vaccination in less than a year. Although distribution of the vaccine increased and the number of cases and hospitalizations decreased, we move forward having experienced the benefits of increased utilization of telemedicine and teleconferences to reach patients and trainees around the globe.
- Dubin J, Wyant A, Balaji N et al: Telemedicine usage among urologists during the COVID-19 pandemic: cross-sectional study. J Med Internet Res 2020; 22: e21875.
- Gadzinski A, Gore J, Ellimoottil C et al: Implementing telemedicine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. J Urol 2020; 204: 14.
- Ramaswamy A, Yu M, Drangsholt S et al: Patient satisfaction with telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic: retrospective cohort study. J Med Internet Res 2020; 22: e20786.