The COVID-19 pandemic has upended everyday life, including how we see our doctors. But when you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you don’t get to take a break from managing the condition because of what’s going on in the world. That’s why telemedicine visits have become so important.
If you’re not yet a fan of virtual visits, that’s okay. As with any new technology, they can take some getting used to. “I think for some people there is a concern that, ‘I’m not really seeing my doctor. How will she treat me?’” says Nilanjana Bose, MD, a rheumatologist at the Rheumatology Center of Houston. “But with telehealth, you can actually act even more proactively about your RA.” Findings from a study published in October 2020 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research suggest that telehealth visits are just as effective as in-person visits for RA management.
Telehealth has some unique benefits. It can:
Reduce your risk of becoming infected. When you do a virtual visit from home, you aren’t at risk of contracting COVID-19 or another infection while on your way to an appointment or at the doctor’s office. This can be particularly important for people with RA who are immunocompromised due to their treatments.
Save time by eliminating your commute to a doctor’s office and missing less work for an appointment. “There are so many situations where you just don’t have the time to go spend two hours on a checkup,” says Dr. Bose. “Instead, you can carve out 20 minutes of your time for a virtual visit, even when you’re working.”
Provide a record of what was covered. It can be difficult to remember everything you and your rheumatologist discussed during a checkup. Many telehealth platforms have the ability to record the video for reference later. If you’d like a record of your session, check beforehand to see if you’ll be able to do this yourself or if your doctor’s office can provide you with a recording afterward.
Make it less stressful to talk to your doctor. “Some people with RA are actually more comfortable in their home or work setting, as compared to a doctor’s office,” says Bose.
Potentially save you a visit. Not all RA concerns necessitate a virtual visit. If you start to experience a flare-up of symptoms, which can be unpredictable and exhausting, your rheumatologist may have an online patient portal where you can send an email to explain your symptoms. Your doctor can review your medical records, including what medications you’re on, and prescribe treatment as needed, Bose says. “Sometimes, in my practice, we do a phone virtual visit, and sometimes we’ll [do a] telehealth visit,” she adds. But your doctor may determine you need a certain treatment, such as a steroid injection, that will require an in-person visit.