As the world anxiously awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, rheumatology providers are equally anxious to understand the efficacy and safety of the vaccines under study, as well as how a new vaccine will be allocated.
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To provide guidance for these and other COVID-19 vaccine-related questions, the ACR’s COVID-19 Practice & Advocacy Task Force, comprising rheumatologists, pharmacists, office managers and psychologists, is developing a guidance document related to an anticipated vaccine, according to task force chair Kelly Weselman, MD, a rheumatologist in the WellStar Medical Group, Atlanta.
Staying a Step Ahead
Guidance for a COVID-19 vaccine will be the latest in a series of resource documents released by the task force to respond to the almost daily changes and needs emerging from the pandemic, whether they are changes based on access issues to medications, such as hydroxychloroquine, or emerging developments related to telehealth and economic support for practices.
As of Sept. 1, the task force has released more than 30 guidance documents, FAQs and videos providing guidance to support practicing rheumatologists and their patients through COVID-19.
To provide rapid response to emerging issues, the ACR formed the COVID-19 Practice & Advocacy Task Force and a COVID-19 Clinical Task Force in late March as the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis hit the U.S. . Ever since, the COVID-19 Practice & Advocacy Task Force members have been fielding questions coming into the ACR and taking input from focus groups to best address members’ COVID-19 concerns and questions.
“Our charge has been to help members respond rapidly to changes in clinical practice during COVID-19 in order to serve our patients better. We’ve worked every day to identify the needs of members and develop the resources to help them,” Dr. Weselman says.
ACR staff members have supported task force members in this work by sharing resources for telehealth, connecting with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration regarding issues related to hydroxychloroquine and staying on top of the latest information on funding from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help practices survive.
Supporting Ongoing Challenges
The main concerns ACR members have shared during the pandemic have been around telehealth, financial practice support and access to such medications as hydroxychloroquine.
To provide easy access to information to support these and other concerns, all COVID-19 Practice & Advocacy Task Force guidance documents are posted on the task force webpage. Resources are divided into four topic areas: telehealth, practice support, economic support and insurance advocacy. Here’s a snapshot of several resources in each category:
Telehealth resources include a quick reference guide and medical malpractice resources for providers to operationalize telehealth. Patient resources for navigating telehealth include specific tips for participating in a video or audio visit. A telehealth vendor list is also provided.
Practice Support resources include guiding principles for in-person versus telehealth visits and several ACR coalition letters for advocacy actions, such as asking the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to put guardrails on step therapy.
Economic Support resources include federal guidance for the Paycheck Protection Program and CARES funding as they affect rheumatology practices. A video featuring ACR Insurance Subcommittee Chair Chris Phillips, MD, provides advice about sustaining your practice through the pandemic.
Insurance Advocacy resources include ongoing communications from the ACR to insurers on key issues, such as hydroxychloroquine access and telehealth concerns, and the burdens that requirements such as prior authorization pose during the pandemic
Sharing COVID-19 Practice Concerns
“As circumstances around practice and advocacy issues related to COVID-19 evolve, the task force members continue to update existing documents, while also creating new resources,” Dr. Weselman notes.
She says an integral factor in the success of this task force is understanding what rheumatologists and their patients are experiencing so issues can be addressed as soon as possible. Anyone experiencing COVID-19 related drug shortages, practice issues or any other problem is invited to share your comments and questions with the task force via email at COVID@rheumatology.org.
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Carina Stanton is a freelance science journalist based in Denver.