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Effects of the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic on U.S. rheumatology outpatient care delivery and use of telemedicine: an analysis of data from the RISE registry.

Abstract

The SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic resulted in major disruptions to medical care. We aimed to understand changes in outpatient care delivery and use of telemedicine in U.S. rheumatology practices during this period. Rheumatology Informatics System Effectiveness (RISE) is a national, EHR-enabled registry that passively collects data on all patients seen by participating practices. Included practices were required to have been participating in RISE from January 2019 through August 2020 (N = 213). We compared total visit counts and telemedicine visits during March-August 2020 to March-August 2019 and stratified by locations in states with shelter-in-place (SIP) orders. We assessed characteristics of patients within each practice, including primary rheumatic diagnosis and disease activity scores, where available. We included 213 practices with 945,160 patients. Overall, we found visit counts decreased by 10.9% (from 1,302,455 to 1,161,051) between March and August 2020 compared to 2019; this drop was most dramatic during the month of April (- 22.3%). Telemedicine visits increased from 0% to a mean of 12.1%. Practices in SIP states had more dramatic decreases in visits, (11.5% vs. 5.3%). We found no major differences in primary diagnoses or disease activity across the two periods. We detected a meaningful decrease in rheumatology visits in March-August 2020 during the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic compared to the year prior with a concomitant increase in the use of telemedicine. Future work should address possible adverse consequences to patient outcomes due to decreased contact with clinicians.

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