In the modern world, telemedicine is becoming more and more popular, especially among the chronically ill. Rheumatology patients can especially benefit from telemedicine due to their limited access to rheumatologists geologically and their limited mobility. While there are obvious benefits for these patients being cared for by telemedicine, there are also concerns that they won’t be able to receive the same amount of care as they would with a physical visit.
Telemedicine is remote diagnosis and treatment of patients through telecommunications technology. It can be used to eliminate unnecessary doctors visits and help patients who don’t live close enough to specialists. Several rheumatology patients are on waiting lists to see rheumatologists. Some of the lists can have waits that are month’s long. It could be because there’s only one rheumatologist in their geological area. With telemedicine, this problem can be virtually eliminated, giving all patients access to care through telecommunication.
A study by the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology sought to evaluate the long term benefits of telemedicine in rheumatology patients. A total of 85 veterans were evaluated for the study. Each one had been previously diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis and been treated at the local tertiary care site and medical center. The telemedicine program was a 12-month pilot program to test the results of telemedicine in patient-driven care.
Prior to the study, information was collected about each patient, including; the distance they traveled to appointments, their out of pocket costs and RAPID 3 (Routine Assessment of Patient Index Data 3).
Out of the 85 patients in the study, 60 continued to receive their regular care while 25 were treated with telemedicine. Those treated with telemedicine had significantly less out of pocket expenses and their travel time was greatly reduced. However, there was no significant change in RAPID 3. This appears to be useful for some individuals but the number of participants in the study were too few to make any generalizations. In the future, more advanced studies might be able to show what the long-term effects are for rheumatology patients receiving telemedicine care.