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  1. T. Malley1,
  2. J. Jackman1,
  3. S. Manderson1,
  4. L. Saldana Pena1,
  5. E. Evans1,
  6. J. Barrett2,
  7. A. Soni2,
  8. R. Luqmani2
  1. 1Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Rheumatology, Oxford, United Kingdom
  2. 2The Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences, Rheumatology, Oxford, United Kingdom


Background: Many patients with rheumatic disease require immunosuppressive medication putting them at high risk of COVID-19 infection. Reduced staffing in rheumatology due to redeployment to COVID-19 work, limited out patient capacity and patient vulnerability have had a major impact on our ability to review our patients to assess their condition and treatment (by face-to-face, video or telephone consultations). Novel strategies are essential to safely and effectively treat patients with rheumatic disease whilst minimising their risk of exposure to COVID-19 infection.

Objectives: The objective was to develop a digital solution to help deliver safe, efficient and effective care for patients with rheumatic diseases. The aim was to produce a system that allowed us to integrate data recorded directly by patients with information held in our electronic health records to provide a virtual review of care.

Methods: An online questionnaire was used to collect clinical information, including validated disease activity measures, to conduct a remote assessment in 175 patients awaiting follow-up appointments. This assessment was integrated within our electronic health records (EHR). The questionnaire contained measures of disease activity (DAS28 or BASDAI); patient reported outcomes; patient preferences regarding the urgency and type of appointment; any recent problems or changes in medication. This information was imported into a database for clinician review, together with previous clinical records and results of relevant investigations, to inform clinical decisions and to decide on the safest and most appropriate timing for follow-up. Report letters were sent to the patient and their primary care providers.

Results: Of the 175 patients (149 with RA and 26 with AS), 108 patients (89/149 [60%] with RA [mean age=64; female=65%] and 19/26 [73%] with AS [mean age=45; female=54%]) submitted responses over a 6-week period based on which clinical decisions were made. The mean questionnaire completion time was 19 minutes for RA responders and 16 minutes for AS responders. Non responders (67/175 [mean age=61; female=63%]) remained on our list of patients awaiting follow-up arrangements to be made. Sixty-nine responders (64%) had stable disease therefore did not require any changes to their treatment and were offered an appointment within the next 6 months, of whom 12 (11%) requested face-to-face follow-up. Of the remaining 39 – with less stable disease – requiring more rapid follow-up assessment, 22 patients (56%) required a face-to-face consultation to consider treatment change. So far 9 of these patients have had follow-up, of whom 6 necessitated treatment escalation (Methotrexate increase n=2; anti-inflammatory increase n=2; intramuscular steroid n=1; anti-TNF escalation n=1). Thirty-nine patients (36%) provided feedback on the process of completing the questionnaire, 85% of whom used a mobile phone and the remainder used a computer or tablet. The majority (70%) found it “extremely easy” or “somewhat easy” to complete; remaining responses: “neutral” 20%, “somewhat difficult” 10%, “extremely difficult” 0%.

Conclusion: We have created and tested a system of remote clinical management for patients with RA and AS. Amongst the 108 responders, just 31% required a face-to-face appointment, with treatment changes made accordingly. With a backlog of 3,800 awaiting allocation to follow-up appointments, remote clinical management will allow us to safely and efficiently prioritise patients requiring urgent follow-up for treatment optimisation. We will integrate this system into our standard care pathway beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to streamline our service, deliver effective care and provide evidence to support the use of costly biologic drugs.1 We plan to investigate the barriers for non-responders.

References: [1]Holroyd CR, Seth R, Bukhari M, et al. The British Society for Rheumatology biologic DMARD safety guidelines in inflammatory arthritis. Rheumatology. 2019; 58 (2): e3–e42.

Disclosure of Interests: Tamir Malley: None declared, John Jackman: None declared, Sarah Manderson: None declared, Larissa Saldana Pena Grant/research support from: Pfizer’s Global Medical Grants program, Ellie Evans: None declared, Joe Barrett Grant/research support from: Pfizer’s Global Medical Grants program, Anushka Soni Grant/research support from: Pfizer’s Global Medical Grants program, Raashid Luqmani Grant/research support from: Pfizer’s Global Medical Grants program

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