Social distancing protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a rapid expansion of telemedicine. It has allowed patients to save time and money on clinic visits, and physicians to communicate with patients who live remotely. Telemedicine has also been valuable in plastic surgery during initial consultations, transfers, and follow up visits. However, given the often-sensitive nature of plastic surgery, the professionalism and expectations of telemedicine have to be reviewed. A comprehensive literature search of the MEDLINE, PubMed, Google Scholar, EMBASE, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials was conducted for studies published through October 2020 with multiple search terms related to telemedicine and its use in plastic surgery. Data on the effectiveness, challenges, and professionalism of telemedicine were collected. Our review suggests that telemedicine can be an effective mode of communication in many realms of plastic surgery, including cleft care and craniofacial deformities. However, many plastic surgeons are unfamiliar with the existing platforms, and there are no clear guidelines on the most optimal platforms. Physicians have to recognize that patients might have low digital health literacy or may not even possess digital device for telemedicine. There also needs to be an overall improvement in patient education. Given that telemedicine use will continue to increase after the COVID-19 pandemic, regulations on Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant platforms and specific guidelines on telemedicine visits, such as undressing, chaperones, privacy matters, need to be established while maintaining a professional relationship between the patient and the physician.
Copyright © 2021 by Mutaz B. Habal, MD.