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Telemedicine in Neurosurgery: Standardizing the Spinal Physical Examination Using A Modified Delphi Method

Abstract

Objective

The use of telemedicine has dramatically increased due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. Many neurosurgeons are now using telemedicine technologies for preoperative evaluations and routine outpatient visits. Our goal was to standardize the telemedicine motor neurologic examination, summarize the evidence surrounding clinical use of telehealth technologies, and discuss financial and legal considerations.

Methods

We identified a 12-member panel composed of spine surgeons, fellows, and senior residents at a single institution. We created an initial telehealth strength examination protocol based on published data and developed 10 agree/disagree statements summarizing the protocol. A blinded Delphi method was utilized to build consensus for each statement, defined as > 80% agreement and no significant disagreement using a 2-way binomial test (significance threshold of p < 0.05). Any statement that did not meet consensus was edited and iteratively resubmitted to the panel until consensus was achieved. In the final round, the panel was unblinded and the protocol was finalized.

Results

After the first round, 4/10 statements failed to meet consensus ( < 80% agreement, and p = 0.031, p = 0.031, p = 0.003, and p = 0.031 statistical disagreement, respectively). The disagreement pertained to grading of strength of the upper (3/10 statements) and lower extremities (1/10 statement). The amended statements clarified strength grading, achieved consensus ( > 80% agreement, p > 0.05 disagreement), and were used to create the final telehealth strength examination protocol.

Conclusion

The resulting protocol was used in our clinic to standardize the telehealth strength examination. This protocol, as well as our summary of telehealth clinical practice, should aid neurosurgical clinics in integrating telemedicine modalities into their practice.

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