Evaluating Factors Associated With Telehealth Appropriateness in Outpatient Rheumatoid Arthritis Encounters Using the Encounter Appropriateness Score for You (EASY)

J Rheumatol. 2024 Jun 15:jrheum.2024-0014. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.2024-0014. Online ahead of print.


Objective: Telehealth has been proposed as a safe and effective alternative to in-person care for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The purpose of this study was to evaluate factors associated with telehealth appropriateness in outpatient RA encounters.

Methods: A prospective cohort study (January 1, 2021, to August 31, 2021) was conducted using electronic health record data from outpatient RA encounters in a single academic rheumatology practice. Rheumatology providers rated the telehealth appropriateness of their own encounters using the Encounter Appropriateness Score for You (EASY) immediately following each encounter. Robust Poisson regression with generalized estimating equations modeling was used to evaluate the association of telehealth appropriateness with patient demographics, RA clinical characteristics, comorbid noninflammatory causes of joint pain, previous and current encounter characteristics, and provider characteristics.

Results: During the study period, 1823 outpatient encounters with 1177 unique patients with RA received an EASY score from 25 rheumatology providers. In the final multivariate model, factors associated with increased telehealth appropriateness included higher average provider preference for telehealth in prior encounters (relative risk [RR] 1.26, 95% CI 1.21-1.31), telehealth as the current encounter modality (RR 2.27, 95% CI 1.95-2.64), and increased patient age (RR 1.05, 95% CI 1.01-1.09). Factors associated with decreased telehealth appropriateness included moderate (RR 0.81, 95% CI 0.68-0.96) and high (RR 0.57, 95% CI 0.46-0.70) RA disease activity and if the previous encounters were conducted by telehealth (RR 0.83, 95% CI 0.73-0.95).

Conclusion: In this study, telehealth appropriateness was most associated with provider preference, the current and previous encounter modality, and RA disease activity. Other factors like patient demographics, RA medications, and comorbid noninflammatory causes of joint pain were not associated with telehealth appropriateness.