The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a major impact on how patients are evaluated and treated for diseases and conditions in normal patient care. Due to lack of effective treatments for this virus or vaccines to prevent infection, focus is placed on infection prevention through use of social distancing, quarantine, and face masks. To prevent COVID-19 infections in healthcare settings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended decreasing or eliminating nonurgent office visits. Telehealth has emerged as an alternative way to deliver effective patient care, while reducing patient and physician exposure to the virus. Telehealth is any remote healthcare process, including provider training or team meetings, whereas telemedicine refers to use of specific technology to connect a patient to a provider. High quality of care can and must be provided by Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgeons (FPMRS) as well as other specialists and health professionals using telemedicine. Because of the health care emergency during the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have broadened access to and reimbursement for telemedicine services. Rapid advances in communications technology and widespread wireless access in many modern households have allowed the adoption and integration of telemedicine into urogynecology and other health practices. There are no clear guidelines for the use of telemedicine in FPMRS. The aim of this study was to conduct an expedited review of the evidence and to provide guidance for managing common outpatient FPRMS conditions during the COVID pandemic using telemedicine. FPMRS conditions were grouped into those that likely to require different treatment with virtual management compared with in-person visits, and those that could use accepted behavioral counseling and not deviate from current management paradigms. Rapid systematic review methodology was used to screen for articles related to 4 topics: (1) telemedicine in FPMRS, (2) pessary management, (3) urinary tract infections, and (4) urinary retention. In addition, 4 other topics were addressed (based on past systematic reviews and national or international society guidelines): (1) urinary incontinence, (2) vaginal prolapse, (3) fecal incontinence, and (4) defecatory dysfunction. Finally, clinical experience and expertise were pooled to reach consensus on 4 remaining areas: (1) FPMRS conditions amenable to virtual management, (2) urgent care scenarios requiring in-person visits, (3) symptoms that should alert providers to a possible COVID infection, and (4) special consideration for managing patients with known or suspected COVID-19. Overall, behavioral, medical, and conservative management provided in a virtual setting (via phone or Internet communication) will be valuable as first-line treatments. Certain situations were identified that require different treatments in the virtual setting than in person, whereas others were shown to require an in-person visit despite risks of COVID-19 exposure and spread of infection. This study presents guidance for treating FPMRS conditions via telemedicine in a format that can be actively referenced. The strengths of the study include use of an expedited review method, extensive experience of the authors in conducting systematic reviews, as well as being seasoned FPMRS practitioners. Main limitations include the rapid methodology, lack of data regarding many of the pertinent questions, and missed salient studies, because of the expedited evidence methods.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Obstetrics and Gynecology