Pandemic Puts Patients With Psoriatic Disease Off Seeking Medical Help

Sara Freeman

February 24, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

More than half of respondents to a recent survey looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis (PsA) said that they had avoided seeking medical care in person with a doctor or at a hospital.

Moreover, around a quarter had their appointment with a rheumatologist canceled, rescheduled, or conducted virtually. Another 1 in 10 had their treatment plan disrupted, and 6% had to change or stop treatment entirely.

The mental health impact of living with these conditions during the pandemic was also notable, said Rachael Manion, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Psoriasis Patients (CAPP), which conducted the survey in collaboration with the Canadian Psoriasis Network (CPN) and Unmasking Psoriasis.

"It's important to know that there have been a lot of different impacts of the pandemic on people living with psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis. Mental health in particular has had a really big hit as a result," she said at the Canadian Arthritis Research Conference: Research with Impact.

"About half of the people who responded to our survey noted that their mental health was 'worse' or 'much worse' during the pandemic," she said at the meeting, which was sponsored by the Arthritis Society, the Canadian Rheumatology Association, and Canada's Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis. Anxiety and feelings of isolation were reported by a respective 57% and 58% of respondents, and 40% reported depression.

"We can compare that to our earlier information around depression," Manion said, which showed that, prior to the pandemic, 24% of people with psoriasis and 23% of those with PsA had said they experienced depression.

"What I found alarming looking at these results was that about a third of people were experiencing despair. Now that's a really big, scary, overwhelming emotion that has a lot of burden on your mental health," Ms. Manion said.

Despite the substantial effects on mental health, only 29% of respondents said they had been able to access mental health services during the pandemic.

To look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the psoriasis and PsA community in Canada, three patient advocacy groups – CAPP, CPN, and Unmasking Psoriasis – codeveloped a survey to look at the disease experience before and after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was performed once, with 830 respondents providing information on their lives with psoriasis or PsA in the months before the start of the pandemic and at the time they were surveyed in September and October 2020.

Most of the survey respondents lived in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, or Alberta, although other provinces or territories were represented. Almost all respondents (96%) had psoriasis, and 60% also had PsA.

Pre-COVID, nearly half (49%) of patients said that they had not been seen by a rheumatologist, and 39% had not seen a dermatologist for treatment. Asked why, 56% and 27%, respectively, had not been referred, 9% and 15% said they had no specialist located nearby, and 7% and 10% stated that the wait list was too long.

"This tells us that there's a lot more work that can be done and a lot more education of general practitioners and family medicine professionals about the benefits and the value of specialized care for psoriatic arthritis," Ms. Manion suggested.

Before the pandemic, joint pain was occurring in 88% of patients, stiffness in 71%, and joint swelling in 67%. Disease flares or sudden periods of worsening occurred on a daily basis for 17%, and around one in five (21%) experienced multiple flares every month.

Prepandemic data also highlighted the negative impact that living with psoriasis or PsA has on people's ability to sleep, interactions and intimacy with others, and on their school or work lives.

During the pandemic, around a quarter (26%) of respondents said they had worse or much worse access to employment, as well as its benefits such as a stable income (24%). A minority of respondent also described worse access to prescription medication (15%) and over-the-counter medication (13%).

"There are all kinds of things going on for patients in our community: changes to their work, changes to their drug coverage, their ability to sleep and sleep well, their mental health, and their ability to access care and treatments as part of their disease management," Ms. Manion said.

Her final message to health care professionals was: "I just want to encourage you to continue to check in with your patients about what their experiences have been during the pandemic, and to really consider those impacts as you're working with them to manage their disease."

The survey received funding support from AbbVie, Bausch Health, Boehringer Ingelheim, Janssen, LEO Pharma, and Novartis.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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