Madison, Wis. — Caring for patients during COVID-19 can be especially challenging when those patients have a chronic autoimmune disease like Lupus. UW Health is home to the state’s only Lupus and Lupus Nephritis (kidney) clinic that offers coordinated care with a rheumatologist (expert in arthritis and the immune system), nephrologist, social worker and a pharmacist to help with medication and insurance coverage.
Patients with Lupus see their body’s immune system attack its own tissues. This autoimmune disease can cause inflammation in many areas such as the joints, kidneys, blood cells, skin, heart, brain and lungs. Treatment of Lupus often involves suppressing the immune system which can leave patients at risk of worse outcomes should they contract COVID-19.
One prominent treatment for Lupus is the drug Hydroxychloroquine. It is an immunomodulator drug that gained prominence in early coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand for the drug surged due to the attention, putting many Lupus patients at risk from shortages. Since that surge, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared Hydroxychloroquine not a viable treatment for those with COVID-19.
"This is a pivotal medication for all patients with lupus and lupus nephritis," said Dr. Shivani Garg, rheumatology professor, of the department of medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. "At the early stages of the pandemic there was a limitation on refills, but we quickly acted and worked with our pharmacists, local lupus support groups and with lupus foundation of America to spread awareness, decrease panic regarding the predicted shortage of medication, created protocols to ensure supplies to most of our patients with lupus and lupus nephritis."
UW Health has ensured that there are adequate supplies and protocols in place to make this medication available to all patients with lupus and lupus nephritis. The clinic also offers telehealth visits when possible to minimize travel for immunocompromised patients. In April, all visits were via telehealth and now roughly half of patients are seen in person.
"It is very important for us to talk to our patients about COVID-19, about their anxiety and their thoughts, since they are at a higher risk of complications associated with contracting the virus," said Dr. Singh, nephrology professor at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. "Our multidisciplinary teams, including our social worker, pharmacist, nurses are working relentlessly to ensure that our patients get the care they need, along with emotional, social and physical support during these unprecedented times."