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Where Telehealth Fits into Your RA Treatment Plan

Where Telehealth Fits into Your RA Treatment Plan

Consider these points when determining where and how telehealth may fit into your treatment plan for rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the major types of inflammatory arthritis. It is an autoimmune disease, a disease where the immune system produces antibodies that attack healthy cells. When a person has RA, these antibodies attack cells in the joints, causing symptoms such as pain and inflammation. RA can affect any joint in the body, but some joints are more common than others. The hands, wrists, and feet are the most common.

Over time, RA can cause permanent damage and deformity to the joints. If you or a loved one has RA, it is very important that you seek treatment in order to prevent joint damage and deformity.

Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, treatment for RA may be more difficult due to reduced office hours or closures, concerns about going to a healthcare provider’s office, or other reasons.

As the pandemic continues, people with RA may want to consider telehealth appointments. Telehealth refers to virtual healthcare appointments, where a patient and provider connect remotely. For example, using a video conferencing application on a phone, computer, or tablet. Many patients and healthcare providers have been using telehealth appointments during the pandemic.

Benefits of telehealth appointments
Many people with RA can benefit from telehealth appointments, especially if their symptoms are under control and they are in stable condition. Telehealth appointments allow you to alleviate any concerns you have about going to a healthcare setting during the pandemic while continuing treatment under the guidance of your rheumatologist.

Limitations of telehealth appointments
Telehealth may not be right for every person or every appointment. People who are experiencing persistent RA symptoms or a flare-up may need to see a healthcare provider in-person so that the provider can check the degree of swelling around the joints and determine whether the joints are inflamed. In other cases, a person may need to visit a lab for diagnostic tests.

As you continue treatment, your healthcare provider can work with you to determine whether or not an in-person appointment is necessary or if they can monitor you remotely.

Treatment for RA may also involve physical and occupational therapy, and these providers may also be able to work with you remotely.

Other healthcare appointments
Though RA’s most recognizable symptoms occur in the joints, the disease has an impact on the entire body. People with RA are at a greater risk for numerous other conditions, such as:

  • Skin rashes and nodules
  • Loss of bone density
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Inflammation or dryness of the eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Inflammation of the lungs
  • Anemia

Because of the risk of these other conditions, anyone who has RA should also be keeping regular appointments with a primary care physician and may also be working with other healthcare specialists. It is worth considering the other areas of healthcare where telehealth may be a good fit and discussing these options with your healthcare providers.

Medically reviewed in February 2021.

Sources:
Hospital for Special Surgery. "Inflammatory Arthritis."
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. "Autoimmune Disease Definition."
Elsevier Point of Care. "Clinical Overview: Rheumatoid Arthritis."
HealthIT.gov. "What is telehealth? How is telehealth different from telemedicine?"
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Using Telehealth to Expand Access to Essential Health Services during the COVID-19 Pandemic."
Harvard Health Publishing. "Telehealth: The advantages and disadvantages."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Using Telehealth to Expand Access to Essential Health Services during the COVID-19 Pandemic."
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. "Rheumatoid Nodules."
NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases Resource Center. "What People With Rheumatoid Arthritis Need To Know About Osteoporosis."
Mariana J. Kaplan. "Cardiovascular complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis - Assessment, prevention and treatment." Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America, 2010. Vol. 36.
American Academy of Ophthalmology. "Arthritis and Your Eyes."
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. "Dry Mouth."
Megan Shaw, Bridget F. Collins, Lawrence A. Ho, and Ganesh Raghu. "Rheumatoid arthritis-associated lung disease." European Respiratory Review, 2015. Vol. 24.

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