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How to Best Use Telehealth With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 16, 2020

The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to stay home. But taking a break from going out doesn’t mean you should take a break from health care. It’s important to keep up with your rheumatoid arthritis treatment so you stay healthy.

Many rheumatologists and other medical professionals now offer telemedicine. Instead of going to the office, you see your doctor remotely through a video or phone connection. It’s safe and convenient and reduces your risk of being exposed to COVID-19.

When to Use Telemedicine

Telemedicine works well for regular check-ups and appointments. Your rheumatologist can do an exam, check your symptoms, and find out how you’re feeling. You can also use telemedicine to ask questions and talk to your doctor about medical issues between visits.

During a telehealth visit, the doctor may check your range of motion and balance, see how well you’re breathing, listen to you cough, and look at other symptoms. You can hold up your digital thermometer and show the doctor your glucose monitor and blood pressure gauge readouts.

Talk to the doctor about other ways you can stay safe during the pandemic, like going to the lab less often and having longer times between doses of intravenous medication.

How It Works

The first step is to call your doctor’s office. The staff will screen you for symptoms to see if you need an in-person visit or if telemedicine is OK. If a telehealth visit is a good option, they’ll give you details on how to get started.

Most doctors prefer video chat so they can see you while they’re talking to you. The doctor may also offer phone-only visits, which could work better if you don’t have a good internet connection.

You can use your smartphone, computer, or tablet for a telemedicine visit. The doctor may use a special patient portal. They’ll send you a link to get started. Or you could use an app like Zoom, Facetime, or Skype. Telehealth visits are private and secure, just like in-person visits.

COVID-19 and Your RA Medications

You may have heard that methotrexate and injectable biologics and other medications that suppress your immune system can raise your odds of getting an infection. Researchers aren’t yet sure whether these RA treatments lead to an increased risk of COVID-19.

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If you take steroids to control your RA, the doctor may lower your dose based on recent recommendations by the American College of Rheumatology. But you’ll stay on track with other medications, like hydroxychloroquine, immunosuppressants, biologics, Janus kinase inhibitors, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Everyone’s different. Don’t stop taking your medication or change your dosage on your own. Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.  If you stop taking your medication, you could be more likely to have a flare, pain, joint damage, or disability.

Pharmacy and Medication Tips

During the pandemic, it’s best to keep a supply of your regular medications on hand in case of shortages or delivery problems. Try these tips:

  • Get prescription refills before you run out.
  • Ask your doctor to give you a 90-day supply instead of a 30-day supply.
  • Make sure your doctor includes your diagnosis on the prescription. Pharmacies may prioritize medications for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

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To reduce your exposure to coronavirus, have your prescriptions delivered to your home instead of going to the pharmacy. Many pharmacies now offer free or low-cost delivery. You can also try a mail-order pharmacy.

To lower your COVID-19 risk:

  • Pay over the phone or online.
  • Avoid person-to-person contact.
  • Ask the pharmacy to drop your medication on your porch or in the lobby of your building.
  • Stay 6 feet away from the person delivering your medication.
  • When you bring your medication inside, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or more.
  • Wear a mask anytime you go out. You won’t be able to stay 6 feet away from others all the time.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Arthritis Foundation: “Coronavirus and Arthritis: What You Need to Know,” “Maintaining Routine Rheumatology Care During COVID-19 Outbreak,” “Need to See Your Doctor? Try Telemedicine,” “Stay Healthy.”

Mather Hospital Northwell Health: “Living with rheumatoid arthritis during COVID-19.”

The Rheumatologist: “ACR Updates COVID-19 Clinical Guidance for Adult Patients.”

American College of Rheumatology: “Suggestions from the American College of Rheumatology for Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic: How to Navigate Telehealth.”

National Council on Aging: “Ensuring Access to Needed Medications During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

CDC: “Running Essential Errands.”

UpToDate: “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Care of adult patients with systemic rheumatic disease.”

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