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Influence of COVID-19 pandemic on decisions for the management of people with inflammatory rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases: a survey among EULAR countries


Objectives To investigate how the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic influenced decisions of rheumatologists and health professionals in rheumatology regarding the management of patients with inflammatory rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs).

Methods An English-language questionnaire was developed by a EULAR working group and distributed via national rheumatology societies of EULAR countries, EMEUNET and individual working group members. Responses were collected using an online survey tool. Descriptive statistics were calculated.

Results We analysed 1286 responses from 35/45 EULAR countries. Due to containment measures, 82% of respondents indicated cancellation/postponement of face-to-face visits of new patients (84% of them offering remote consultation) and 91% of follow-up visits (96% with remote consultation). The majority of respondents (58%) perceived that the interval between symptom onset and first rheumatological consultations was longer during containment restrictions than before. Treatment decisions were frequently postponed (34%), and the majority (74%) of respondents stated that it was less likely to start a biological disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD)/targeted synthetic DMARD during the pandemic, mainly because of patients’ fear, limited availability of screening procedures and decreased availability of rheumatological services. Use of (hydroxy)chloroquine (HCQ) and tocilizumab (TCZ) for the COVID-19 indication was reported by 47% and 42% of respondents, respectively, leading to a shortage of these drugs for RMDs indications according to 49% and 14% of respondents, respectively.

Conclusion Measures related to containment of COVID-19 pandemic led to a perceived delay between symptom onset and a first rheumatological visit, postponement of treatment decisions, and shortage of HCQ and TCZ, thereby negatively impacting early treatment and treat-to-target strategies.

  • epidemiology
  • arthritis
  • rheumatoid
  • autoimmune diseases
  • health services research

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