What to Expect With a Telehealth Appointment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Telehealth for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the joints, existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it wasn’t regularly encouraged by doctors or embraced by patients. The pandemic changed the thinking on both sides of the doctor-patient relationship. Now, telehealth for RA is widely accepted as an effective alternative to either continuing regular in-person appointments that may increase risk of COVID exposure, or delaying these appointments essential to managing RA appropriately.

What Rheumatoid Arthritis Telehealth Does Best

Telehealth has strengths and limitations as a tool for RA management. It tends to be a good fit for routine and follow-up appointments, which can include:

  • Answers to questions about your pain and joint function, often through the Routine Assessment of Patient Index Data (RAPID3) questionnaire
  • Observation of your joint swelling and range of motion through video
  • Medication refills or changes
  • “Triage” to in-person appointments as needed for injections, infusions, or assessment of complications

For those with RA, telehealth can be a convenient alternative to in-person appointments, allowing them to avoid traveling to the office on days when pain is high. It’s often easier to get a telehealth appointment more quickly, and most insurances cover at least a portion of it–although you should check your coverage beforehand to confirm.

Preparing for a Rheumatoid Arthritis Telehealth Appointment

Your doctor’s office will give you all the information you need for your telehealth appointment in advance. Many doctors use popular video conferencing platforms you may already be familiar with. Some doctors have their own patient portals or mobile apps. If you live in an area where you can’t get online easily, a telephone call may be an option. It’s a good idea to test your technology prior to your appointment and reach out to your doctor’s office if you have any problems. Write down concerns you want to cover and questions you have. Think about:

  • How long your pain and morning stiffness lasts
  • Whether you feel better or worse since your last appointment
  • If anything new has come up

Have these items within easy reach during your online rheumatologist appointment:

  • Your doctor’s office number in case you lose your connection
  • Pen and paper for additional notes
  • Your medications

Before your telehealth appointment, find a quiet, private space to conduct the call. Good lighting is important if your doctor wants you to show them your swollen joints. It can be helpful to invite a friend or family member into the telehealth process the first time, even by phone or email. Any new experience can feel a little daunting at first, and you may find the “two heads are better than one” approach reassuring. Keep in mind your doctor sees many patients at all levels of comfort (or discomfort) with technology. The aim is not to turn you into an IT expert. It’s to give you a supplemental way to connect. Feel good about giving it a try.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 18
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. RAPID3, an index to assess and monitor patients with rheumatoid arthritis, without formal joint counts: similar results to DAS28 and CDAI in clinical trials and clinical care. National Institutes of Health National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19962621/
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353648
  3. How to Prepare for a Rheumatology Telehealth Visit During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Creaky Joints. https://creakyjoints.org/living-with-arthritis/coronavirus/daily-living/tips-for-telehealth-rheumatology-visit/
  4. Remote Use of the Multidimensional Health Assessment Questionnaire (MDHAQ). The Rheumatologist. https://www.the-rheumatologist.org/article/remote-use-of-the-multidimensional-health-assessment-questionnaire-mdhaq/