Telemedicine services during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown significantly reduced the rate of hospitalization for patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in Italy, according to findings published in Open Medicine.

In response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Italy, a tertiary referral center managing patients with IPF devised a telemedicine system to allow for continuous monitoring and treatment for these at-risk patients.

The researchers enrolled 189 patients diagnosed with IPF from March 11, 2020, to May 4, 2020, in their single-center study. They compared patient telemedicine outcomes with outcome data obtained from 182 patients with IPF during the same period in 2019 prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic before telemedicine became available.


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Telemedicine services included 3 active phone numbers enabling access to trained physicians 12 hours/day, an email address checked every 4 hours, and chat and video conference availability. To reduce social disparities due to lack of access to technology such as computers or smartphones, telemedicine services primarily focused on regular phone calls.

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Of the 189 patients with IPF, 61% participated in telemedicine at least once with 53% of these communications occurring by email and 33% by phone calls. Based on the information provided by the patients through telemedicine, clinicians made decisions to adjust medications such as corticosteroids, antibiotics, or antifibrotics, manage oxygen therapy, or change other aspects of clinical care in 56% of these contacts.

Compared to the pre-COVID cohort of 182 patients with IPF, the investigators observed significantly decreased hospitalization rates in the telemedicine cohort (P <.001). They did not see differences between the 2 groups regarding mortality rate (P =.64). Only 1 patient with IPF contracted COVID-19 with successful outcomes following hospitalization.

“These findings further support the idea that [telemedicine services] can help in addressing the challenges that physical isolation is creating in patients with chronic diseases during the COVID-19 outbreak,” the authors said. “The use of telephone or video appointments has been described as a useful strategy to reduce potential exposure to COVID-19 for patients with fibrotic interstitial lung disease.”

Reference

Stanziola AA, Salzano A, D’Angelo R, et al. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis telemedicine management during COVID-19 outbreak. Open Med. 2022;17(1):689-693. doi:10.1515/med-2022-0466