Counselling patients for return to work on immunosuppression: practices of Canadian specialists during the COVID-19 pandemic
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OBJECTIVES: The COVID-19 pandemic has infected over 870,000 Canadians and caused 22,000 deaths. Many patients are attempting to balance health and financial stability. Therefore, we sought to determine how physicians who frequently prescribe immunosuppressive medications are counselling patients on return-to-work prior to widespread vaccine distribution and understand their decision processes. METHODS: We administered a survey through the Canadian Rheumatology, Gastroenterology and Dermatology Associations. Physicians were asked whether patients have requested counselling on return-to-work during the pandemic and how they decide what advice to provide. They were shown seven clinical scenarios of patients on immunosuppressive medications, then asked whether they would provide a medical note advocating for delayed return-to-work or modified duties to reduce exposure. RESULTS: 151 physicians took the survey. 94% were asked for advice on return-to-work. 33% felt informed enough to provide counselling. When patients requested a medical note, physicians provided one 25% of the time. Factors most associated with providing notes were patient comorbidities, age, glucocorticoids, high risk work and vulnerable co-inhabitants. Conventional synthetic and biologic immunosuppressants did not prompt most physicians to provide a note. Respondents considered patient perspectives and workplace factors. Several requested guidelines to approach these encounters. CONCLUSIONS: Almost all rheumatologists, dermatologists and gastroenterologists have been asked to counsel patients on returning to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most do not feel informed enough to do so. Medical notes for accommodations are only provided a minority of the time, unless specific factors (e.g. glucocorticoids) are present. Guidance is needed to inform these decisions.
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