As the COVID-19 pandemic swiftly, radically changes daily life, rheumatologists, rheumatology professionals and clinics are adapting as quickly as possible to protect and continue to care for their patients. Some say their practices have implemented telemedicine, using teleconference software, such as Zoom, or smartphone-based apps, such as FaceTime, for many appointments. This approach allows patients to stay in their homes, limiting their risk of infection by SARS-CoV-2.
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Explore This IssueMay 2020
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Telemedicine Use Soars
“I am now practicing telemedicine, which has provided a helpful way to maintain contact with patients remotely, while everything is shut down,” says Susan M. Goodman, MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York. She is working from home and simultaneously helping take care of her grandson.
COVID-19 is affecting her patients’ lives as well. “A major effect is the difficulty in getting hold of hydroxychloroquine because of its putative role in combating COVID-19,” she says. “This has made it very hard to get by for our patients.”
The rheumatology clinic at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, is also ramping up remote appointments, says Ted R. Mikuls, MD, MSPH, Umbach Professor of Rheumatology and vice chair for research.
“We are actively building capacity to do more of our visits by phone or via video conferencing,” says Dr. Mikuls, who calls this a challenging and unprecedented atmosphere for his staff, patients and community. “It’s obviously a work in progress, but we are clearly committed to providing our patients with the best care we can under challenging circumstances, to ensure our patients have the best outcomes at the end of the day.”
At Northwell Health in Huntington, N.Y., Christine Stamatos, CNP, says she is consulting with most patients over the phone using FaceTime or Zoom.
“We had been trying to get telemedicine up and running, and we have a telehealth system that we had already downloaded,” she says. Her hospital, which includes both academic and private practices, provided guidance on how to submit bills for reimbursement for telemedicine care. Video appointments bring unexpected challenges, such as how to examine patients with skin ulcerations, she says. “I don’t know if all of our patients will know how to use the technology. And in one FaceTime appointment yesterday, I was trying to talk with the patient, and her kids were there—home from school—jumping on her back.”
Researchers Change Focus
At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), rheumatologist Veena Ranganath, MD, MS, associate clinical professor of medicine, usually spends one day a week seeing 20 patients and the rest of her time in the research lab. Now, she is handling 20 patient consultations a day, mostly over the phone.