Study Examines Telehealth Visits for Patients with Autoimmune Conditions During COVID-19

Michael George and his team from the University of Pennsylvania have recently uncovered new insights regarding autoimmune patient’s comfortability with care during COVID-19. They’ve been working since the pandemic began to understand how patients with vasculitis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, and ulcerative colitis are coping.

As the pandemic has prolonged, it has become of paramount importance to investigate how the medical community can continue to serve  patients with chronic conditions. Questions regarding the feasibility and effectiveness of telehealth appointments and in-person meetings have surfaced. But it is not just about feasibility, it is also about patient’s willingness and ability to try new options outside of their normal routine.

The Survey

George and his colleagues created a survey to determine the willingness of patients both with and without autoimmune conditions to try telehealth visits. 18,219 patients were surveyed in total. 9,004 of these individuals met the diagnostic criteria that was of particular interest to these researchers.

7,176 of the individuals in the sample had a primary diagnosis of an autoimmune rheumatic condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, ankylosing spondylitis, or psoriatic arthritis.

1,828 patients in the sample did not have an autoimmune disease. 353 of the participants had a respiratory illness. 66 of those in the sample had a COVID-19 diagnosis.

The researchers were able to use these two groups to compare how individuals with various diagnoses were feeling. They controlled for education, income, geographic location, and other demographic factors.

Findings

The team found that both groups of patients felt similarly about the risks of COVID-19 and felt strongly about taking precautions such as social distancing. Individuals who had higher levels of concern included-

  • Females
  • Black people
  • Older individuals
  • Those in urban areas
  • Those in areas with higher numbers of cases

The team also found that those with autoimmune disease were particularly concerned in regards to their personal diagnosis. Of this sample, patients diagnosed with lupus and those who were taking biologics, had the highest concern.

5,543 patients in the sample said they received a DMARD. Of these, 10.3% of patients had stopped taking a medication for their diagnosis due to concerns relating to COVID. However, current recommendations from experts suggest not doing so for patients that are currently doing well on their treatment regime.

Importantly, those with an autoimmune condition were more likely to have a telehealth appointment.

Conclusion

Good and bad news emerge from these findings. Two implications are clear.  Firstly, we need to ensure that patients are aware of what the current recommendations are regarding their treatment plan. Secondly, we need to encourage patients to utilize telehealth appointments, maintain an open line of communication with their doctor, and discuss concerns and needs with their care team.

We will make it through this pandemic, but it will take time, patience, and some willingness to try things outside of our normal routine.

You can read more about this issue here.

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