Telehealth Isn’t Going Anywhere for People With IBD

by Nyaka Mwanza

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about an unprecedented shift in the way telemedicine is used and by whom. While telehealth can’t address every aspect of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, it offers an effective, convenient, and valuable way to access healthcare and communicate with providers. Also known as telemedicine, telehealth is the use of two-way communication technology to provide healthcare services. This communication can be video or audio. 

Telehealth is part of our “new normal” and very likely here to stay, especially for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

When Is Telehealth An Option for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Telemedicine for IBD is best when communication, not physical interaction, is key to treatment. 

Monitoring and Ongoing Care

For people who are in ongoing treatment for a chronic illness such as IBD, telemedicine can be a great option. For people whose disease is relatively stable, telehealth may be the most convenient option for periodic check-ins. For people experiencing new symptoms, telehealth is a good first step for sharing with a doctor and determining the best course of action, including whether in-person evaluation is needed.

Medication Management

Telehealth appointments are a great way to efficiently manage medications for ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s. Based on a conversation about your symptoms or test results, your gastroenterologist or IBD provider can refill, adjust, add, or remove medications to control symptoms and side effects. 

Managing IBD Symptoms

New or worsening symptoms can indicate a disease flare. A telehealth appointment to discuss some symptoms, such as Crohn’s disease rash, can be the first step toward diagnosing and treating a flare. Technological advancements have made it possible for some tests, like the fecal calprotectin test, which can detect inflammation, to be completed at home and discussed via telemedicine. 

When Is an In-Person Visit for Inflammatory Bowel Disease Necessary?

A virtual visit isn’t appropriate for every scenario. Your doctor may determine an in-person follow up is necessary. 

Diagnosing IBD

IBD cannot be diagnosed via telemedicine alone. Diagnosing Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis requires imaging procedures such as endoscopies and colonoscopies, which are used to visualize the inside of a person’s intestines and require in-person consultation. 

Routine or Follow-Up IBD Testing

Endoscopies and colonoscopies are also used to monitor your health when you have IBD. Lab tests and blood work used to monitor how treatment is working also require in-person care.

Infusions

Certain biologic and other drugs used to treat IBD are administered via infusion in a medical setting. However, in some instances it is possible to receive infusions in your home.

Why Telehealth Isn’t Going Anywhere 

Telemedicine increases efficiency and care quality and expands access to care of IBD. Not to mention, telemedicine has been largely well received among the IBD community. 

Efficiency Saves on Time and Money

In-person patient care is more time consuming for both the patient and the provider. As they say, “time is money.” New systems of IBD care incorporating telemedicine will likely be less expensive for providers and healthcare systems. More rapid response for health providers should help to limit unscheduled care, which can be costly for both the patient and provider. 

A study of 48 people with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis conducted before the pandemic reported telehealth saved money and time — an average of a half day to a full day of time and $50 to $200 — compared to traditional visits. 

Access to Care When and Where You Need It

IBD doesn’t operate on your schedule. Flares and medication side effects can and and often are unplanned and unforeseen. Telemedicine removes the need to schedule and wait for an urgent or sick visit or to go to the emergency room. Virtual doctor visits erase the burden of travel, which for some, especially people living in rural areas, can be a huge barrier to accessing high-quality care. 

Better, Patient-Focused Care

Telemedicine improves efficiency, makes on-demand healthcare possible, and allows for faster response from providers. Digital healthcare systems and solutions such as app-based therapy can help streamline screening of IBD symptoms or comorbid psychological symptoms. 

Furthermore, remote healthcare opens a wider selection of gastroenterologists with expertise in IBD or necessary specialty care. Many people can’t access high-quality, specialized care for various reasons. Telehealth can expand equitable access and narrow health disparities. 
Telemedicine isn’t appropriate or effective for every health concern or scenario. In-person, hands-on medicine will always play an important role in healthcare. But telemedicine isn’t going anywhere and will likely continue to play an increasing role in IBD management moving forward.


Nyaka Mwanza is a freelance writer for MyHealthTeams. For much of her career, Nyaka has worked with large global health nonprofits focused on improving health outcomes for women and children. Nyaka believes words hold immense power, and her job is to meet the reader where they are, when they’re there.