Managing Arthritis

Six tips to make virtual care work for you

A virtual meeting

Accessing quality arthritis care in rural areas presents a difficult set of challenges, impacting the well-being of many Canadians living with arthritis. Fortunately, with the increasing use of virtual healthcare, medical specialists, primary care physicians and allied healthcare teams are collaborating to improve health, equity and access to care for people who are rural, in inner city areas and others who struggle to make their in-person appointments. 

“Although many people are feeling more comfortable with in-person appointments, virtual care remains an excellent option for those in rural or remote areas to provide care that would otherwise not be available,” shares Jocelyne Murdoch, occupational therapist (ACPAC) with Arthritis Society Canada. “Check with your local Arthritis Society Canada office to see if rheumatology clinics are available, and if so, how you can access them.” 

Virtual healthcare, also known as telemedicine, uses secure video platforms to connect patients with their healthcare providers, offering scheduled appointments or on-demand real-time access, either from their own homes or healthcare facilities.

How to prepare for your first virtual appointment 

  1. Know the terms your doctor uses by naming the joints that are bothering you. Use our joint identification guide for hands and feet to learn the proper names. 

  2. Complete this symptom questionnaire and bring it to your appointment. 

  3. Be prepared to discuss the following: 

    • How long does your morning stiffness last? 

    • How would you rate your pain, fatigue, and sleep on a scale of 0-10 where 0 is perfect and 10 is worst? 

    • Are your arthritis symptoms better with activity and exercise, or better with rest? 

    • What have you tried that has been helpful or not helpful? 

  4. Email or fax a complete medication list, including your supplements and vitamins, ahead of your appointment. 

Once you have armed yourself with the necessary information, here are additional tips to get the most out of your virtual care appointments. 

How to maximize your appointment time

  1. Ensure you have a stable internet connection. Keep the appointment link handy in case of a disconnection and have a phone available as a back-up plan. If you are unable to connect to your healthcare provider's virtual platform, ask them for an alternative if possible.   

  2. Choose a quiet and private location and, use a device that has the largest screen and can be set on a stable surface. If you have poor internet, a smaller device like a smartphone may be better as it uses less bandwidth than a tablet, laptop or desktop PC.  

  3. Wear headphones with a microphone for clear communication.  

  4. Wear loose fitting clothing that will make physical examinations easier, like a tank top and loose pants. 

  5. Have a medication list, tape measure, paper and pen ready, and send pictures of any physical symptoms in advance.  

  6. Bring someone with you for support. 

Learn more by reading our resource on how to prepare for a virtual healthcare appointment. Here is a helpful appointment checklist to run through before you meet with your healthcare provider.  

Beyond providing access to those living in rural areas, virtual healthcare proves valuable in various situations, including: 

  • regular follow-ups when you are feeling well, and your arthritis is well-controlled 

  • when you have an infection and cannot attend your regularly scheduled follow-up 

  • you are unable to attend your appointment due to a transportation barrier (snowstorm, etc.) 

  • you need an urgent follow-up to review a side effect with a medication or a new symptom 

“If your care is entirely virtual, it’s important to ensure that you also get regular assessments by someone who is trained in recognizing arthritis on a musculoskeletal exam,” Jocelyne recommends. “This could be a specially trained occupational therapist or physical therapist with ACPAC training, a community physiotherapist or chiropractor, or a nurse who is trained to do a joint count.” 

Advanced Care Practitioner in Arthritis Care (ACPAC) is a certificate program designed for physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurses and chiropractors. It offers an innovative model of care aimed to increase access to arthritis care through an interprofessional approach. 

How to get a referral to a specialist 

To get referred to appropriate healthcare specialists and resources, rural patients can seek referrals from their primary care providers, and e-consults through video platforms can be arranged. For additional support, you can connect with ACPAC. Together with ACPAC specialists, you can meet with rheumatologists through telemedicine. 

Virtual healthcare offers hope for improving access to quality arthritis care, ultimately enhancing the well-being of individuals living with this chronic condition.