It’s Done – 605+ Telemedicine Visits as a Surgeon

By Andrew M. Watson, MD, MLitt, FACS, Physician, Division of Colorectal Surgery, Department of Surgery; Vice President, Clinical Information Technology Transformation, International Div.; Medical Director, Telemedicine, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

I come from four generations of surgeons, a legacy that I’ve continued as a colorectal surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and one of eight family surgeons now practicing in this same area of the state.

My introduction to telemedicine actually began in 2005 with a patient during a post-operative visit. After answering my questions about her diet and digestive system, she wanted to know why she couldn’t see a physician at the local hospital near her home instead of traveling an hour each way for this follow-up appointment.

With this insight from my patient, telemedicine soon made sense to me for many reasons.

  • Physicians can visit patients at home, a practice of my ancestors that I wanted to follow.
  • Patient care becomes more humane because sick patients don’t have to travel; they can stay home and recover.
  • Safety takes priority. One of my patients in her 70s drove to and from her appointments on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in all types of weather. I could now see her in a local, rural hospital close to her home.
  • Medicine returns to its roots, and the humanity of practicing medicine becomes more focused on better access to care for patients.

As society undergoes this digital overhaul, the transition to telemedicine will take time because it means physicians must learn a new skill set. They must conduct an exam over video instead of the look, listen and feel, directives followed during in-person encounters.

Physicians have long thought they must see patients face-to-face, visits long considered currency for health care. As remote visits replace in-person appointments, we no longer can identify that currency. 

Giving Back to ABT

With the genetic pressure of my family, I had to make sure I wanted to become surgeon. I was fortunate to study abroad for two years at Oxford where I became a student of 17th century Baroque architecture and Sir Christopher Wren. That path led me to English physician Dr. William Harvey, also of that era, who confirmed full circulation of the blood in the human body.

In defending my thesis, my professors asked, “How do you give back? How do you help the overall body of knowledge”? This humbling experience confirmed my choice of surgery as a profession and an opportunity to eventually help better the world.

I met that goal with the American Board of Telehealth (ABT), a national organization of experts carefully focused on telehealth to bring merit and governance to remote patient care. As a member of the ABT Advisory Council, I collaborate with my telemedicine colleagues to improve remote patient care through the ABT Telehealth Certificate Program.

Medical boards and physician leaders look for and depend on the level of confidence infused into educational courses. The ABT certificate program meets that criteria with preparation and test taking assessments to ensure students understand and can implement standardized telehealth services.

Find out more about the ABT Telehealth Certificate Program.