Telehealth and ‘virtual hospital’ allow some spine surgery patients to go home sooner

Many patients are eager to be home and skip the often costly rehab stay. Norton Leatherman Spine innovations make it easier.

A combination of telehealth and remote monitoring is allowing some patients to go home sooner after significant spinal surgery, according to the medical director of Norton Leatherman Spine.

Norton Telehealth and ‘virtual hospital’ innovations accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic so patients can get care while practicing social distancing.

The shift prompted Steven D. Glassman, M.D., to make the model available to Norton Leatherman Spine patients undergoing significant spine procedures such as fusions, scoliosis and other procedures that involve implanting instruments to help stabilize the spine. For certain patients, it means they potentially can skip a stop at a sometimes costly rehabilitation facility after their surgery.

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“The idea of ‘virtual hospital’ is to be able to provide at home some of the more standard monitoring done in the hospital that can just as well be done remotely,” said Dr. Glassman, an orthopedic spine surgeon and medical director of Norton Leatherman Spine. “There are people who don’t need to be in the hospital, but they’re not quite ready to go home.”

To help these patients, Norton Leatherman Spine is sending them home with oxygen saturation monitors and other monitoring equipment. They also receive frequent telehealth visits from home either by phone or video with a nurse, who will check on blood pressure, oxygen saturation and other vital signs.

“A lot of those things don’t need physical presence. Even some physical therapy is possible remotely,” said Dr. Glassman, who is also a professor of orthopedics at the University of Louisville.

Patients undergoing significant spine procedures typically spend three or four days in the hospital recovering from surgery and then either are discharged home or sent to a rehab facility. They often prefer not to go to another facility but are nervous about being home, according to Dr. Glassman.

“There’s some fear. They want some oversight,” Dr. Glassman said. “They may simply need reminders about the proper way to get out of bed or how to use a walker.”

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