Successful Distancing: Telemedicine in Gastroenterology and Hepatology During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dig Dis Sci. 2021 Mar 3:1-9. doi: 10.1007/s10620-021-06874-x. Online ahead of print.


Telemedicine involves delivering healthcare and preventative care services to patients without the need for in-person encounters. Traditionally, telemedicine has been used for acute events (e.g., stroke, used to relay essential information to the emergency department) and chronic disease management (e.g., diabetes and chronic kidney disease management). Though the utilization of telemedicine in gastroenterology and hepatology has been modest at best, especially for inflammatory bowel diseases and chronic liver disease management, since the onset of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, utilization of telemedicine in gastroenterology increased by 4000% in the first two weeks, equivalent to the last six years of growth before the pandemic. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) relaxed rules for the use of telemedicine with easing restrictions on reimbursements, location, licensing requirements (across state lines), and the need for a prior provider-patient relationship. These changes increased the use of telemedicine in inpatient and outpatient settings for gastroenterology-related referrals. The use of inpatient telephonic or video consults helps provide timely care during the pandemic while conserving personal protective equipment and decreasing provider and patient exposure. Nevertheless, telehealth use comes at the cost of no direct patient contact and lesser reimbursements. The appropriate use of technology and equipment, training of healthcare providers, use of platforms that can be integrated into the electronic health record while protecting the privacy and the flow of information are essential components of telemedicine. Furthermore, encouraging patients to seek medical care remotely with the proper equipment and improving digital literacy without the need for physical examinations is a challenge, further compounded in elderly or hard-of-hearing patients and in patients who are more comfortable with in-person visits. The authors will systematically review and discuss how telemedicine can be integrated into the practice of gastroenterology and hepatology, with emphasis placed on discussing barriers to success and the ways they can be mitigated.

PMID:33655456 | PMC:PMC7925138 | DOI:10.1007/s10620-021-06874-x