Review| Volume 65, ISSUE 3, e47-e53, March 2012

Telemedicine and plastic surgery: A review of its applications, limitations and legal pitfalls

Published:December 19, 2011DOI:



      Telemedicine is a rapidly expanding technology involving the exchange of medical information to assist diagnosis and treatment at a distance. Within the field of plastic surgery, where visual examination contributes heavily to patient management decision-making, telemedicine has great potential. However, privacy and medico-legal issues must be considered when using electronic communication to assist our clinical practice.


      A comprehensive literature review of manuscripts published on telemedicine was performed. Articles were selected for relevance to plastic and reconstructive surgery and reviewed for applications, benefits and complications of telemedicine. In addition, the manuscripts were reviewed for conforming to current legal guidelines for the electronic transfer of patient information.


      Twenty-nine articles met the inclusion criteria (11 trauma and burns, 4 hand, 5 wound-care, 5 maxillofacial, 1 digital replantation, 2 free-flap monitoring, and 1 technical application). Twenty-eight (96%) manuscripts reported a benefit of telemedicine (commonly including increased access to expertise and costs saved through reduction of unnecessary transfers). However only five (17%) reported a statistical benefit compared to a standard treatment cohort (face-to-face interactions). Fifteen (51%) reported on adverse effects, which included misdiagnosis, time consumption, training, technical and cost issues. Only four manuscripts (14%) discussed conforming to legal guidelines within their institution.


      Telemedicine can improve access to the specialty of plastic surgery by facilitating the provision of expertise at remote sites. Its application can be used in many situations and between a variety of healthcare professionals. However, there is little critical analysis on the benefits and risks of telemedicine. In addition, its legal implications need to be carefully considered if it is to be safely integrated into our daily practice.


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