Telehealth welcomed by rheumatology patients beyond COVID-19

Telehealth during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic has received the thumbs up from patients with inflammatory arthritis.

A survey of 1,032 adult responders from the Australian Rheumatology Association Database (ARAD) found the majority (79.5%) completely, mostly or moderately agreed that telehealth and telephone consultations during the pandemic were acceptable.

Furthermore, the survey of healthcare access and attitudes towards telehealth showed most patients (82.8%) were happy for telehealth to continue after the pandemic.

“Despite changes in healthcare delivery during the early pandemic phase, most respondents thought their inflammatory arthritis healthcare had been either only a little or not at all interrupted (883, 85.6%) or compromised (924, 89.5%),” the study said.

The study, published in the Internal Medicine Journal, found that while there was some difficulty accessing face-to-face consultations with GPs and rheumatologists, about 90% of patients had no difficulty accessing their doctors via telehealth.

Similarly most people had no difficulty accessing pathology, pharmacy or radiology.

“We found that despite the early lockdown, there was an overall low level of difficulty and high confidence accessing required community health services up to May 2020,” the study said.

“Factors that may have increased confidence include Australia having relatively low positive COVID-19 cases compared to many countries at that time, as well as strategies to maintain access such as medication home delivery and scheduled pathology and radiology times to minimise infection exposure.”

The study said previous studies in rheumatology cohorts have suggested that many patients are satisfied with telehealth as a consultation option.

“The high acceptability and utilisation of telehealth in our cohort during the pandemic may reflect an unmet desire in our patients for telehealth in general,” they said.

The study noted that patients from nonmetropolitan areas were less confident about accessing their rheumatologist in person, but had similar confidence accessing their rheumatologist via telehealth.

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