MS Patients Warmed To Telehealth During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Analysis of answers to online survey shows that telehealth use is high among people with multiple sclerosis (MS) amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth may be an appealing option for patients with MS who have physical impairments that make traveling to in-person appointments difficult.

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) used telehealth services more frequently than non-MS patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and were satisfied with the outcome, a new study says.

Published recently in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the study found high rates of healthcare disruption among individuals with MS and neurologically healthy individuals. But the Kessler Foundation study also found that people with MS were more likely to utilize telehealth services than people without MS, Rutgers said in a news release.

The study was based on an online conducted between September and October 2020. The researchers analyzed answers from 70 people with multiple sclerosis and 93 healthy controls.

Lead author Michelle H. Chen, Ph.D., a member of Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research and neurology instructor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and her colleagues found that telehealth appointments almost doubled the rate of in-person medical care appointments. The rate of visits for mental health issues was five times higher than in-person appointments. Moreover, the majority of the people with MS and the healthy controls indicated were satisfied with telehealth services.

“The findings suggest that telehealth services were well liked during the pandemic. Because many individuals with MS have physical disability that may make travel more difficult, temporary expansions of telehealth coverage should be made permanent after the pandemic in order to expand access and reduce health care disparities,” Chen said.

Of course it’s not just MS patients that are utilizing telemedicine visits more often. Many patients plan to continue virtual visits beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey. Doximity’s recent “State of Telemedicine Report” showed substantial increases in patient comfort with telehealth in 2021, compared to 2020. Roughly 3 in 4 patients (73%) said they plan to use telemedicine after the pandemic, up from 58% in 2020.

The Rutgers researchers combed through the online survey data to analyze rates of healthcare disruptions, such as missing or canceling appointments and experiencing delays. They also had data to analyzed answers to questions about telehealth use for medical care and mental health care.

Between 38% and 50% ofMS patients reported experiencing disruptions in their MS and non-MS medical care, and 20% to 33% reported disruptions in their mental healthcare — significantly lower than those observed among healthy controls.

“The current study significantly contributes to our understanding of healthcare utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said corresponding author Helen Genova, associate director of the Center for Autism Research at Kessler Foundation and research assistant professor at Rutgers University-New Jersey Medical School.

However, the researchers said additional data on the health insurance status of participants as well as qualitative interviews with MS patients are needed to more fully understand the nature of the healthcare disruptions.”