Dr. Marla Dubinsky is compensated by Pfizer for her work as an Editorial Board member on TalkingUC.com, a resource developed by Pfizer to connect, inspire, educate and empower the ulcerative colitis community.
The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated many changes to day-to-day life, including reimagining doctors’ visits across most of the country. In response, the healthcare community shifted to telemedicine appointments in many cases to continue to provide care to patients, including those living with ulcerative colitis (UC).
Although some areas of the country are re-opening or planning to do so soon, some people living with UC may determine with their doctors that virtual appointments are most appropriate for them at this time. For an expert’s perspective on telemedicine for patients living with UC, we interviewed Dr. Marla Dubinsky, a gastroenterologist and professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
What role has telemedicine played in your practice during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Telemedicine appointments allow us to continue to work with patients on their disease management in a safe manner during this time. Some people living with UC are experiencing a lot of stress and worry about flaring but don’t want to go to urgent care or the hospital because they’re concerned about COVID-19. Patients also have questions about living with UC during the COVID-19 pandemic and telemedicine provides some opportunities to address their concerns more quickly.
Why is it important for people living with UC to continue to work closely with their healthcare teams?
For patients experiencing UC symptoms, it is important for them to speak with a healthcare professional to determine the best course of action. Even if there is not a lot going on, there may be questions to discuss.
For many of my visits, telemedicine can be helpful in providing regular disease management. Depending on the patient’s symptoms and needs, my team works collaboratively to determine how the patient should be seen – either a telemedicine visit or in-person.
Can people living with UC connect with members of their healthcare teams beyond gastroenterologists using telemedicine?
In addition to connecting with your gastroenterologist, many times patients may be able to receive care through telemedicine appointments from other members of their healthcare team, such as a psychologist, nutritionist or pharmacist. These check-ins may be important to help with tips on how to manage the stress and possible changes in routine and diet associated with lifestyle changes during the pandemic. They also provide an opportunity to answer any questions about medications. If a patient wants to talk to a specialist who isn’t currently part of the healthcare team, they can ask to receive a referral.
How can people living with UC work with their healthcare teams to address the challenges and limitations of telemedicine, from technological issues to necessary procedures such as infusions?
I try to have video visits with my patients but, of course, that doesn’t work for everyone from a technological perspective. In those instances, I ask whether the patient has a family member who can help them get set up, or I will meet with the patient over the phone.
We faced significant challenges about some patients’ ability to continue to receive their medicines, and we worked with them to find ways to assist them – so don’t be afraid to discuss the situation with the healthcare team.
What has been your overall experience using telemedicine during the pandemic?
I have enjoyed having telemedicine visits. This is because I want to see my patients, and for them to see me. I think one of my greatest joys and solaces throughout this experience is being able to see my patients’ faces, meet their pets.
The health information contained in this article is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a healthcare provider. All decisions regarding patient care must be made with a healthcare provider, considering the unique characteristics of the patient.