Personal communication goes a long way in establishing and cementing surgeon-patient relationships. I learned years ago that something as simple as giving patients my email address diminished their fear and anxiety because it gave them direct access to me. Now, due largely to the recent pandemic, more numerous and sophisticated forms of “telemedicine” have come to the forefront of health-care delivery.
In the February 3, 2020 issue of The Journal, Kingery et al. report results from a randomized controlled trial investigating whether brief day-of-surgery communications between surgeons and patients who underwent an outpatient sports-medicine procedure affected patient satisfaction scores. To find out, the researchers randomized 3 surgeons into 1 of 3 patient-communication modalities:
- No contact (standard of care)
- Phone call the evening after surgery
- Video call the evening after surgery
Satisfaction among the 250 participating patients was assessed at the first face-to-face postoperative visit using the standardized S-CAHPS questionnaire, which evaluates patient experiences before, during, and after an outpatient surgery. Patients also completed a 9-item questionnaire specifically designed for this study. The authors focused on the rate of “top-box” responses (the highest rating possible) in each of the 3 groups group.
Kingery et al. found that day-of-surgery postoperative communication between patients and surgeons, either by video or phone, significantly improved S-CAHPS top-box response rates relative to the no-contact group. Specifically, phone calls were associated with a 16.1 percentage point increase in the top-box response rate, while video calls were associated with a 17.8 percentage point increase. The authors also found that patients contacted by video or phone were more likely to recommend their surgeon and felt more informed than those who were not contacted.
Although the authors did not record the content or duration of the conversations in the 2 contact groups, these data strongly suggest that patients welcome day-of-surgery communication—and that such encounters improve patient satisfaction. I therefore think we all should consider leveraging technology, especially that which has arisen from the COVID pandemic, to help give our patients a better overall health-care experience. A few non-reimbursable minutes at the end of the day could have lasting, positive effects on both patients and us.
Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media