The Importance of Telerheumatology in Rural and Underserved Communities

September 30, 2022

Christine Peoples, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh, has been at the vanguard of telemedicine since completing her fellowship in rheumatology at UPMC in 2013.

Soon after completing her fellowship, she was tasked with expanding the virtual care presence within the Division, specifically in rural and underserved communities in Pennsylvania where there is high patient demand for convenient and accessible services.

“At the time, 40-50% of patients in rural areas would not see a rheumatologist due to barriers such as travel, a lack of technology, and more. This did not sit right with me because an entire population was missing out on receiving care and I couldn’t let that go,” says Dr. Peoples.

Dr. Peoples currently provides rheumatology care at outpatient telemedicine centers in three UPMC locations: UPMC Bedford, UPMC Northwest, and UPMC Cole.

“The bulk of what I do is different than telehealth visits where the patient logs onto their device and completes the visit from their home. Instead, they visit their local hospital that offers a telehealth center where they are greeted by our staff who guides them through the entire visit.”

All telemedicine centers have a full administrative staff, RNs, and exam rooms with audio-visual equipment. During the visit, Dr. Peoples interacts with patients in real-time using the latest telehealth technology while the experienced and rheumatology-trained RN does an in-person exam under her direction.

Technology such as a Bluetooth stethoscope program and extensive camera equipment allows Dr. Peoples to examine the patient from multiple angles. In collaboration with the RN, she assesses, diagnoses, and creates a treatment plan for the patient.

Since rheumatologists typically see patients that require long-term care for chronic conditions, Dr. Peoples has noted that patients appreciate the relationships they are able to build with providers and RNs, as well as the continuity of care that the telemedicine visits provide.

“Ultimately, our Division offers a variety of care approaches that are tailored to the type of experience that each patient wants. With our telemedicine offerings, we bring academic rheumatology care to rural PA to serve those in need” says Dr. Peoples.

Learn more about the Rheumatology Telemedicine Services offered at UPMC.