Virtual Visits Make Post-op Care Convenient 

Written by: Crystal Huff 

 Mary Mech, Rotator Cuff Surgery“I just knew something was wrong,” recalls Mary Mech. That’s when she decided to get a second opinion with Aaron Chamberlain, MD, a Washington University Orthopedic shoulder specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. 

In December of 2017, Mary fell and fractured her humerus bone near her shoulder. The fracture healed, but the pain never went away. In January of 2019, she made an appointment with Dr. Chamberlain and was diagnosed with calcific tendinitis of the rotator cuff. He referred Mary to his colleague, Dale Colorado, DO, MPH – a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and medical director of the orthopedic regenerative medicine program.  

Dr. Chamberlain says, “In an effort to help Mary with her symptoms and try to avoid surgery, I referred Mary to Dr. Colorado who has expertise in performing precise injections under the guidance of X-ray and ultrasound. He also performs other minor procedures that can be very effective in treating shoulder problems like Mary’s.” 

To reduce inflammation and reduce pain, Dr. Colorado gave Mary an ultrasound-guided steroid injection. In June of 2019, Dr. Colorado performed an ultrasound-guided barbotage procedure, where a needle is guided to the rotator cuff to break up the calcium deposits.

Dr. Colorado explains, “Corticosteroid injections and barbotage procedures are commonly used and effective treatment options for calcific tendinitis of the rotator cuff.”

Mary’s pain subsided for almost five months, but soon returned. Mary scheduled another appointment with Dr. Chamberlain in January of 2020, and together, they decided the best treatment was an arthroscopic procedure to clean out her scar tissue. Dr. Chamberlain sent Mary for an ultrasound of her shoulder to look for any tearing of the rotator cuff tendon or progression of the calcific tendonitis. Her imaging showed a torn rotator cuff and she was scheduled for surgery on March 12th.

Around the same time as her surgery, COVID-19 cases started to appear in the St. Louis area. In response to the global pandemic, office visits and elective procedures were limited for a brief time. Health care delivery across the country had to change and adapt to ensure patients received the care they needed.

Dr. Chamberlain explains, “Traditionally after surgery, I typically see patients in the clinic two to three times over a three-month period after the procedure to check on their incision and their rehabilitation progress. However, due to the COVID pandemic, we needed to limit the exposure risk for our patients.”

To help patients avoid coming to the hospital or clinic during the height of the pandemic, Washington University Orthopedics introduced virtual visits, also called telehealth. Virtual visits are a secure and easy way to connect with an orthopedic specialists from the comfort of a patient’s home. These video visits are conducted through a computer or phone.

Dr. Chamberlain was a key member of the Washington University Orthopedic department to organize and launch the department’s virtual visit system, and Mary was one of the first patients to have her follow-up appointment conducted virtually.

Mary says, “I felt like the virtual visit was just as thorough as an in person visit, possibly even better because I didn’t have to drive or wait. I wore a sleeveless shirt so Dr. Chamberlain could see my incision and I prepared a list of questions. Dr. Chamberlain addressed all of my questions and demonstrated an exercise on camera just like he would have done in person. I was very pleased with my telehealth visit. I was able to have my appointment from the comfort of my home.”

“Through this difficult time when there was an urgent need to use telehealth as a way to take care of patients without seeing them in person, we’ve learned that telehealth is an effective and convenient way to provide care for certain patients. We look forward continuing to offer telehealth visits moving forward,” says Dr. Chamberlain.

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