Technology and communication have been vital to many rheumatology practices throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing providers to quickly deploy solutions and respond to patient needs, according to Howard M. Busch, DO. As part of our ongoing series discussing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on rheumatology, Dr. Busch shares his insights and experiences with The Rheumatologist (TR).
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In 1987, Dr. Busch founded the Family Arthritis Center, Loxahatchee, Fla. He is also the founder and president of American Arthritis and Rheumatology Associates (AARA), the largest rheumatology group in the U.S. Dr. Busch is a noted national speaker and a member of the speaker’s bureau of numerous pharmaceutical companies. He has also been an investigator for numerous clinical trials and holds five patents.
Dr. Busch obtained his Bachelor of Science from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, N.Y. For his medical studies, he attended the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine at the New York Institute of Technology. He interned at Metropolitan Hospital, Philadelphia, and completed a medical residency at Norwalk Hospital, Connecticut, which is affiliated with Yale University. He served as chief medical resident and an instructor at Yale.
For his rheumatology fellowship, Dr. Busch attended the University of Medicine and Dentistry, Newark, N.J., where he was awarded the Northeast Regional Fellow Award for Research and selected the chief fellow.
Dr. Busch’s wife, Stacey Busch, RN, BSN, MA, CRHC, originally trained as an oncology clinician, “saw the light” and now serves as Dr. Busch’s practice manager and AARA consultant. They have three beautiful daughters and a growing family of eight grandchildren. In his free time, Dr. Busch is an avid swimmer.
TR: How has your practice changed to meet the demands of the pandemic?
Dr. Busch: We have drastically improved communication with our patients by using our technology to broadcast informational telephone blasts to our patients about the pandemic, how it could impact their health and what to do. We have also increased the use of telemedicine, including for those patients who are concerned about the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, so they can stay in the comfort of their homes and still have a visit.
We have also become much more cognizant about cleanliness and social distancing. We limit the number of patients in the welcome room at any given time and are much more disciplined regarding sanitation policies.
TR: Has the pandemic affected the financial viability of your practice? In short, how is your practice coping?
Dr. Busch: The pandemic did not affect the financial viability of my practice or those of my AARA powered by Bendcare peers. We did not have to lay off staff, and we do not anticipate any negative long-term financial impacts. In fact, we are coping extremely well. We have not taken a dime from the government, and when it was offered to us, we returned it. That speaks volumes about the power of a large group having a working relationship with a company such as Bendcare.
The efficiencies we have gained through the deployment of our telemedicine offerings virtually eliminated any declines in patient visits—even during the peak of the pandemic.
TR: What are your thoughts on telemedicine? Will you continue to provide patients the option post-pandemic?
Dr. Busch: We will definitely continue to employ telemedicine post-pandemic and certainly [use it] as a touchpoint between visits. However, in looking at our numbers, we believe most patients are now coming to the office in person for their visits.
Regarding future capabilities of our telemedicine offerings, our group (AARA) will be launching a new product, called HomeRheum, which will allow telemedicine visits to be even more seamless. It will include the implementation of a virtual welcome/waiting room. This will allow any care center in our network to allow virtual walk-ins and will further simplify the virtual experience for our patients.
TR: Are you recommending rheumatology patients get a COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes broadly available?
Dr. Busch: I think, based on our present knowledge, that taking the COVID-19 vaccine would be advisable, especially considering the new mRNA technology.
TR: What lessons have you learned from the pandemic?
Dr. Busch: I believe groups function better rather than independent practices—that they are greater than the sum of their parts. Offices that follow our blueprint continue to thrive safely, and our improved communication with our patients surrounding the pandemic demystified some of the issues, making them less likely to cancel their appointments because we addressed their concerns.
Additionally, communication is more important than ever. Our group’s ability to engage with each other seamlessly in real time, using enterprise platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, has not only made this communication easier, but has proven to us all how important it is to stay connected during these unique and challenging times. Being able to connect with other providers in our network with the simple click of a mouse and to collaborate via our Teams structure has allowed us to deploy best-in-class solutions literally in real time.
TR: What are you looking forward to doing post-pandemic that you haven’t been able to do in the past year?
Dr. Busch: I’m looking forward to taking a vacation. With that said, I realize the value and power of Bendcare having our back during this time, which allowed us to implement and execute programs that benefited the physicians, office staff and patients on this journey.
I am also looking forward to hugging and handshaking again, given the close relationships I have with my patients. This has been a stressful and trying time for everyone, but there is nothing more powerful than the unifying comradery of a well-aligned team.
Keri Losavio is the Wiley editor of The Rheumatologist.