Telemedicine in research and training: spine surgeon perspectives and practices worldwide

Karim Shafi, Francis Lovecchio, Grant J Riew, Dino Samartzis, Philip K Louie, Niccole Germscheid, Howard S An, Jason Pui Yin Cheung, Norman Chutkan, Gary Michael Mallow, Marko H Neva, Frank M Phillips, Daniel M Sciubba, Mohammad El-Sharkawi, Marcelo Valacco, Michael H McCarthy, Melvin C Makhni, Sravisht Iyer
European Spine Journal 2021 January 22

PURPOSE: To utilize a global survey to elucidate spine surgeons' perspectives towards research and resident education within telemedicine.

METHODS: A cross-sectional, anonymous email survey was circulated to the members of AO Spine, an international organization consisting of spine surgeons from around the world. Questions were selected and revised using a Delphi approach. A major portion of the final survey queried participants on experiences with telemedicine in training, the utility of telemedicine for research, and the efficacy of telemedicine as a teaching tool. Responses were compared by region.

RESULTS: A total of 485 surgeons completed the survey between May 15, 2020 and May 31, 2020. Though most work regularly with trainees (83.3%) and 81.8% agreed that telemedicine should be incorporated into clinical education, 61.7% of respondents stated that trainees are not present during telemedicine visits. With regards to the types of clinical education that telemedicine could provide, only 33.9% of respondents agreed that interpretation of physical exam maneuvers can be taught (mean score = - 0.28, SD =  ± 1.13). The most frequent research tasks performed over telehealth were follow-up of imaging (28.7%) and study group meetings (26.6%). Of all survey responses provided by members, there were no regional differences (p > 0.05 for all comparisons).

CONCLUSIONS: Our study of spine surgeons worldwide noted high agreement among specialists for the implantation of telemedicine in trainee curricula, underscoring the global acceptance of this medium for patient management going forward. A greater emphasis towards trainee participation as well as establishing best practices in telemedicine are essential to equip future spine specialists with the necessary skills for navigating this emerging platform.

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