A qualitative study examined the implications and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the self-care of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the findings of which were published in Wiley.

Self-care among patients with RA during the COVID-19 pandemic included aspects such as managing medications, being physically active, eating well, and seeking medical help for disease flares.

The current analysis was aimed at understanding the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the self-care of patients with RA.


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The study included 2 randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Participants wore activity trackers, used a web-based app, and consistently discussed their activity with a counselor. Inclusion criteria for the RCTs included a physician-confirmed diagnosis of RA, no joint surgery in the last 6 months, no history of acute injury to any joint in the last 6 months, access to a mobile device, and the ability to be physically active. At the end of the RCT interventions, the participants were asked to share their experience in an interview.

Interviews were conducted over the phone by a PhD researcher with relevant experience and focused on 2 topics: participants’ experience with the intervention and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on self-care.

Of a total of 33 participants, telephone interviews were conducted with 26 (79%).

The final analysis identified 3 major themes, namely, adapting to maintain self-care, managing emotions, and changing communication with health professionals.

Adapting to maintain self-care was directly related to the pandemic. Participants examined their personal routines to maintain being physically active and complete daily tasks, while also taking steps to prevent virus infections, adapting to changes in medication access, and improving self-care by spending more time at home.

With regard to managing emotions, a common factor for participants was experiencing stress, anxiety, and fear. These included concerns for family members, changes in employment or finances, and unknown factors in terms of medication access. Participants reported using resilience-building strategies for emotions, including keeping perspectives, forfeiting a sense of control, positive affirmations, and avoiding threatening thoughts.

The final theme presented was the ongoing change of communication with health care professionals. During phase 2 and phase 3 participants were commonly willing to engage in remote consultations if they had a previous relationship with their practitioners. Overall, participants reported a benefit from remote appointments.

One of the limitations of the study was the lack of inclusion of underserved populations.

Researchers concluded, “The findings reveal opportunities to further examine remote consultations to optimize patient engagement and care.”

Reference

Leese J, Backman LC, Ma KJ, et al. Experiences of self-care during the COVID‐19 pandemic among individuals with rheumatoid arthritis: a qualitative study. Wiley. Published online August 17, 2021. doi:10.1111/hex.13341