Balancing COVID-19 Risk and Wellness in Patients with Rheumatic Diseases

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The study stresses the need for better communication with patients and the impact of stress on both the rheumatic disease and mental health.

In the second part of an interview with Courtney Wells, PhD, MPH, LGSW, explains the lessons her team learned while evaluating the results of her study, “Balancing COVID-19 Risk With Physical and Mental Wellness: Perspectives of Patients With Autoimmune Rheumatic Diseases Throughout the Pandemic,” as well as plans for future research. Wells is assistant professor and field director at the University of Wisconsin- River Falls.

Wells believes although the results are not particularly surprising, their clinical significance lies in the lessons learned from them.

“One important aspect is the need for better communication and information dissemination during a crisis,” Wells stated. “Many participants expressed confusion and a lack of knowledge regarding their risks and appropriate actions. It would be beneficial to have proactive conversations between patients and healthcare providers to address these uncertainties and develop plans to manage potential health risks.”

Conversations with patients should encompass general information about risks during viral outbreaks and specific guidance for individuals with rheumatic conditions.

Another crucial finding was the impact of stress on both rheumatic conditions and mental health. The study highlighted how increased stress can exacerbate these conditions and compound other health issues.

“Rheumatology providers should engage in conversations about stress management with their patients, understanding the connections between stress and rheumatic conditions,” Wells suggested. “They can explore strategies to help patients manage stress, such as medication adjustments, referrals to therapists, or other supportive interventions. By addressing stress proactively, providers can improve the overall wellbeing of their patients.”

Regarding future research, while it is uncertain if the team will follow up specifically on the COVID-related aspect of the study, they plan to continue exploring patient perspectives, particularly in the realm of mental health.

Additionally, the team aims to delve deeper into the health equity aspect of the research. The experiences and stories shared by participants highlighted the systemic barriers and racial disparities that affected their sense of safety and access to care. Further projects will focus on health equity to better understand and address these issues, building on the foundation laid by these results.

This transcript was edited for clarity.

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