Telemedicine, a physically distanced way to receive medical help, allows patients to receive treatment and diagnosis from medical professionals from their own homes to remain physically distanced.

The American College of Rheumatology presented new statistics at the ACR’s annual conference, showing that telemedicine’s increased use has led to a decreased amount of appointment cancellations. Using webcams, smartphones, and other HIPPA compliant video messaging platforms, medical professionals, doctors, and nurses can safely provide care from a different location than their patients.

When COVID-19 began, rheumatology clinics and medical practices had to cut down on the number of patients they could see due to infection risk, especially with their higher-risk patients. With less accessible appointments comes an increased risk of disease flares and even the need for hospitalization.

Telemedicine allows these patients to receive care while following the proper precautions to ensure they stay as healthy as possible and are not at risk of contracting the virus.

In an attempt to see how the recent use of telemedicine could affect the number of cancellations and no shows at rheumatology clinics, researchers from Cleveland, Ohio’s MetroHealth Medical Center compared retrospective data spanning 20 weeks. During the ten-week pre-COVID phase, from January 3rd to March 10th, clinics only offered appointments in the rheumatology clinics. Data from these weeks showed that about 31% of appointments were canceled.

Over the next ten weeks, from March 16th to May 31st, there were almost zero cancellations with the addition of telemedicine. The second phase of data also revealed an increase in completed appointments compared to when telemedicine was not an option.

More diagnostic appointments, such as joint injections, will still require in-person care. More technical appointments can be administered with telemedicine. The convenience of digital visits with telemedicine lowers cancellations by making appointments more accessible.
Moving forward, MetroHealth’s Division of Rheumatology hopes to have up to 40% of follow-up visits conducted via telemedicine.