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New Online Consultation Tool Empowers Patients With Rheumatic Diseases, Study Finds


Chinese researchers employed a new online consultation tool to improve disease management for patients with rheumatic diseases who travel long distances for a consultation with their rheumatologist and noted significant savings for the patients.

A new online consultation tool may strengthen the interaction between physicians and their patients with rheumatic diseases, according to new research presented at the 2017 American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting.

Researchers in China developed the new tool to provide more efficient management of chronic illnesses. The Smart System of Disease Management (SSDM) is a series of applications based on clinical data and a mobile app that allows for online consultation.

In China, patients can seek care in any hospital or with any doctor they want, but those with rheumatic disease tend to seek care in large cities, because that is where the rheumatologists are located. This results in patients traveling long distances and even staying at hotels to see a clinician after a long wait.

“It is not uncommon for most Chinese rheumatologists to have to see up to 60 to 100 patients daily.” Fei Xiao, MD, CEO of Cinkate Corporation and a lead author of the study, explained in a statement. “Because of the large volume of patients who go to major hospitals for regular clinical care, physicians may only spend three minutes on average with each patient. This limits the time to do objective disease activity evaluations.”

Patients trained to use SSDM are able to perform self-management for their condition, including disease activity scoring of 28 joints, health assessment evaluations, and medication and lab test data entry. The study aimed to determine the benefits of using SSDM for online consultation.

Rheumatologists educated and trained patients on using SSDM, which includes a doctor/patient interface, a self-assessment, medication management, adverse events management, and laboratory records. After patients submit their data to their doctor, the provider may follow-up in person with patients or consult through text or voice with SSDM. Overall, 66.35% of patients said they found their experience with the online consultation “very satisfying.”

More than one-third (35.3%) of the patients who received online consultations lived in a different city than their rheumatologist. As a result, using SSDM saved a significant amount of money. The total fees collected for SSDM consultations was 477,960 yuan RMB; the total cost for patients seeking care at a hospital, including the cost of registration fees, medical expenses, and the average cost of transportation, accommodations, meals, and lost wages was 3,157,200 yuan RMB. In total, the online consultation created a savings of 84.86% for patients.

According to Xiao, patients and providers will benefit from SSDM, with patients more empowered to input data and follow their disease progression, and physicians able to mine and analyze data for research and publication.

“Access to this online program also helps physicians to mine and analyze data for scientific research and publication,” he said. “Based on the trajectory and real-time data, such as disease activity score, lab results, medication and patient’s symptoms, physicians are able to take proactive interventions, and turn passive practice into outcome-driven care. This model can be replicated into the other disciplines and fields of chronic disease.”

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