As the cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in South Florida, Reshma Khan, MD, a rheumatologist at the Palm Beach Rheumatology and Wellness Center, Jupiter, Fla., is being careful to emphasize social distancing, but not social isolation. Dr. Khan believes that, during this pandemic, it’s more important than ever for rheumatologists to share support and best practices.
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The Rheumatologist recently spoke with Dr. Khan to learn how she’s maintaining connections during the pandemic.
Q: How are you and your staff adapting to the sudden changes brought about by the pandemic?
I started a Facebook group called Women Rheumatologists Group (WRG) four years ago, and this past March, the topic of COVID-19 began coming up. Physicians were talking about ways we could prepare for cases, and my staff and I developed a plan to triage and treat patients in the event of an outbreak.
In early March, we began screening patients over the phone. If they had recently traveled outside of the country or taken a cruise, we booked their appointments two to three weeks out, so there wouldn’t be at risk of spreading the disease. I also set up my computers and cameras to do telemedicine, if needed. I’m glad we had precautionary procedures in place because several rheumatologist friends had to close their offices for several weeks due to COVID-19 exposure.
Q: What types of appointments are you conducting?
In March, before the government announced the pandemic, we started conducting 50% of our appointments through telemedicine. The biggest concern was whether insurance companies would appropriately compensate for our time through telemedicine. However, I did what I thought was best for my patients, and now, we see almost everyone virtually. Infusion and injection patients are still making office visits, but their appointments are spread out, and we only see one patient at a time.
Q: What are you telling patients about COVID-19’s potential risks and symptoms? What are their chief concerns?
When I speak to patients, I stress the importance of social distancing and explain [that] if they are on biologics, they may be more susceptible to COVID-19 infection. I also discuss coronavirus symptoms and how prevention is best, [because] there is currently no cure.
One of the biggest concerns is whether they can continue to receive their medications. Hydroxychloroquine, used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, is in short supply [because] it’s being studied as a potential therapy for COVID-19. Patients who typically receive a 90-day supply can now only receive a 14-day supply from many pharmacies. For some patients, we also received forms from their pharmacy to do prior authorization. It was more work on our end, but at least we’re able to secure a 30-day supply for patients.