Characterise telehealth use in MS clinics during the COVID–19 pandemic.
Assess patient and clinician attitudes towards telehealth.
Compare telehealth–based and physical EDSS obtained during period of telehealth implementation.
Methods Clinic records from Mar-Dec 2020 were reviewed. Patients and clinicians completed questionnaires about experiences using Telehealth. The iMed database was searched for EDSS recorded via face-to-face and telehealth appointments during and compared to face-to-face EDSS preceding and following the study period. T-test and Chi-square test were used for between-group comparisons.
Results 2023 appointments (27% face-to-face, 35% video, 37% telephone) were conducted. New referrals were predominantly face-to-face (66%).
89% of patients were satisfied with telehealth. 58% felt they were as good as face-to-face visits, whilst only 11% of clinicians agreed. Many patients favoured a hybrid model. Safety during the COVID-19 pandemic was important to both groups.
EDSS increase from the preceding visit was recorded in a significantly higher proportion of face-to-face than telehealth appointments (p=0.027), with the increase driven by patients with baseline EDSS≤4.0. Amongst patients with EDSS increases, similar numbers of suspected relapses were seen via both modalities. Absolute increase in EDSS was also significantly greater amongst patients seen face-to-face (p<0.0001). There was no significant difference in EDSS change at subsequent follow-up in patients with consecutive face-to-face versus intervening telehealth appointments.
Conclusion Patient satisfaction with telehealth was high, whilst clinicians preferred face-to-face consultations. EDSS increase was more frequently recorded via face-to-face than telehealth appointments, which may underestimate lower EDSS. Future clinics could combine both modalities.
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