COVID-19: Frequently asked clinical questions
Many questions on the care of patients with regard to COVID-19 have been coming up in clinic lately. We periodically try to answer some of the most common and important ones, including the following:
How should patients on immunosuppressive therapy be advised during the COVID-19 pandemic?
In general, those patients who have not tested positive, have not been exposed, and are asymptomatic should continue their medications as prescribed.
The American College of Rheumatology issued a statement on April 14, recommending that stable patients continue their medications. Those with known exposure but without confirmed infection may continue hydroxychloroquine, sulfasalazine, and NSAIDs.
Immunosuppressants, non–IL-6 biologics, and JAK inhibitors should be stopped temporarily, pending a negative test or after two weeks without symptoms. In patients with confirmed positive COVID-19 infection, sulfasalazine, methotrexate, leflunomide, immunosuppressants, non-IL-6 biologics, and JAK inhibitors should be stopped temporarily, pending a negative test or after two weeks without symptoms. In patients with confirmed positive COVID-19 infection, sulfasalazine, methotrexate, leflunomide, immunosuppressants, non-IL-6 biologics, and JAK inhibitors should be stopped temporarily. Anti-malarial therapies (hydroxycholoroquine and chloroquine) may be continued and IL-6 inhibitors may be continued in select circumstances.1
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that the discussion of continuation of biologics be based on a case-by-case basis, citing insufficient evidence to recommend against discontinuation at this time in those patients who have not tested positive. In patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 it is recommended that biologic therapy be suspended until symptoms have resolved.
Should I continue preventive services during peak COVID-19?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends delaying all elective ambulatory provider visits. In general, preventative services, such as adult immunizations, lipid screening, and cancer screenings, should be delayed. Additionally, the CDC recommends reaching out to patients who are at high risk for complications from respiratory diseases to ensure medication adherence and provide resources if these patients become ill. Facilities can reduce transmission of COVID-19 by triaging and assessing patients through virtual visits through phone calls, video conferences, text-monitoring systems, and other telemedicine tools. Physicians should try to provide routine and chronic care through virtual visits when possible over in-person visits.
Should I continue to vaccinate my pediatric population during peak COVID-19?
Practices that schedule separate well visits and sick visits in different sessions or locations can continue to provide well child visits. A practice could, for example, schedule well visits in the morning and sick visits in the afternoon if a single facility is used. These practices should prioritize newborn care and vaccinations of children, especially for those under the age of 24 months.
Can physicians use telehealth (phone only or audiovisual) to conduct visits with Medicare patients even if they are new patients?
Effective March 1 through the duration of the pandemic, Medicare will pay physicians for telehealth services at the same rate as an in-office visit. On March 30th, the Centers for Medicare & Medcaid Services announced new policies for physicians and hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. These guidelines were updated on April 9.