Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment via Telemedicine

The best way to avoid exposure to COVID-19 is to stay home. But taking a break from going out doesn’t mean you should take a break from health care.

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. You can also have your medications delivered to your home instead of going to the pharmacy.

When to Consider Telemedicine for RA

Telemedicine works well for regular appointments. Your rheumatologist can do an exam and talk to you about how you’re feeling.

Your doctor can check your range of motion and balance, look at a rash, watch your breathing, listen to your cough, and look at other joint symptoms. You can also hold up your digital thermometer and your glucose and blood pressure readouts for your doctor to see.

For IVs, you may be able to have at-home service or switch to one you can inject yourself. Check with your doctor and insurance company to find out your options.

If you’d like to schedule a telemedicine visit, call your doctor to see if it’s OK.

How Telemedicine Works

You can use a smartphone, computer, or tablet for your telemedicine appointment. If you don’t have a video connection, you can use your telephone for an audio-only visit.

The office staff will tell you what to do. They may email you a link that opens an app or website where you register for your appointment. If you have questions or need help to figure out technology issues before your appointment, they can help.

When it’s time for your visit, you’ll connect to a patient portal where you’ll see your doctor. Or you may use an app like FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Skype.

To get ready for your appointment, gather anything that may help your doctor do a full exam. Get a list of your medications and medical history. Gather your thermometer and testing devices so you can share your readouts.

Paying for Telemedicine

Ask your insurance company and doctor’s office how much your telemedicine visit will cost. It may be the same as an in-person visit.

Many insurance companies and doctors’ offices have relaxed their policies and reduced fees because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have Medicare, you may have the same coinsurance and deductibles as a regular visit. But some providers have lowered your cost. If you have Medicaid, check with your state for details.

Have your Prescriptions Delivered

Try to keep a supply of medications at home so you don’t have to go to the store. Get a 3-month supply if possible. Call your pharmacy or insurance company to see how much they allow. Order prescriptions in advance. It may take a few days to fill your order.

The safest way to get prescriptions is to have them delivered to your home. Many pharmacies now deliver for free or at a low cost. You can also try a mail-order pharmacy or ask a family member or neighbor to pick up your prescriptions.

Stay safe with these tips:

  • Pay ahead of time, online or over the phone.
  • Avoid person-to-person contact. Ask them to leave your medication outside, such as on your porch or in the lobby.
  • Always stay at least 6 feet away from the person who delivers your prescription.
  • After you bring the medication inside, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Try a mail-in pharmacy for medications you use on a regular basis. You may get a larger quantity of your medication, such as a 3-month supply instead of a 1-month supply. Your copay may also be lower.

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Call your insurance company or Medicare to find out if mail order is an option, which pharmacies are covered by your plan, and what your cost will be.

It takes time to get a mail-order prescription, so you may need to use an in-person pharmacy for medication you need right away.

Tips for Visiting the Pharmacy

If you have questions for a pharmacist, call or go online instead of going into the pharmacy.

If you have to visit in person, try these tips to stay safe:

  • Ask if they have special hours for people who are at a higher risk.
  • If it’s crowded, go back another time.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others.
  • Stay away from anyone who looks sick.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Use touchless payment if possible.
  • If you touch money, a keypad, or credit card, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when you’re done. Wash your hands when you get home.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on December 23, 2020

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,” “Paying for Telemedicine,” “Stay Healthy.”

CDC: “Running Essential Errands.”

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

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