Telehealth for Ulcerative Colitis During COVID-19

Virtual visits can be helpful during the pandemic and beyond

During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth services have become more prevalent in the management of ulcerative colitis. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes ulcerative colitis, is a lifelong condition that requires consistent medical management, which means that you shouldn't skip your appointments with your healthcare provider—virtual visits can help your condition under control.


What is Telemedicine?

Changes in Telemedicine During COVID-19

Telehealth involves communicating with healthcare providers via phone, email, or text. In the past, providers were not compensated for these touchpoints—they were only compensated for in-person office visits.

When the pandemic made physical distancing important, policies were changed by the Department of Health & Human Services, allowing providers to charge for telehealth visits. This gave providers time to put telehealth appointments into their schedules—and to spend more time on remote care appointments.

when not to use telehealth for ulcerative colitis

Nez Riaz / Verywell

How Telehealth Might Be Used

For ulcerative colitis, telehealth services might be used for follow-up visits, going over colonoscopy results or lab work, and discussing all those “other” parts of living with IBD such as sleep, sexual health, and nutrition.

A gastroenterologist can also determine whether you need a refill of your medications, make medication changes, give you a referral to see another specialist, or decide if your symptoms warrant an in-person visit. It might even be possible for you to see your healthcare provider more frequently with the convenience of virtual visits.

There have been some studies showing that telehealth can be helpful for people who have ulcerative colitis and other forms of IBD. The pandemic thrust telehealth to the forefront faster than expected, but it was being actively studied prior to its use during COVID-19.

One study showed that the patients that were given access to virtual visits used fewer in-person services over the course of a year.

Other positive aspects of telehealth, aside from the possibility of improved care, are financial benefits and improved quality of life. Televisits might have a lower cost than an in-person visit, and less travel and time away from work is also helpful for patients.

Finding a Telehealth Healthcare Provider

Many gastroenterologists are offering telehealth visits during the pandemic. For practices that aren’t able to offer virtual visits, it may be possible to make an arrangement with another practice, institution, or even an IBD Center.

After all, distance and scheduling problems are solvable with virtual visits, so it may make sense to see a specialist who is offering telehealth visits, especially if your ulcerative colitis is stable or in remission.

It may even be possible for you to see one healthcare provider in-person for physical exams and another healthcare provider or an IBD nurse using telemedicine. Your insurance provider or your state health department can help you find a healthcare provider that’s both in-network and offers telehealth services.

Explaining Your Symptoms

You can explain many of the effects of your ulcerative colitis verbally—and your provider will ask questions to make sure you don't forget anything. But signs and symptoms, such as eye problems, skin conditions, or abdominal swelling might be evaluated with a video visit.

Work with your provider to find the best way to demonstrate your symptoms. Using the best possible video camera available and having a bright light on hand can help. A still photo may also be useful if the provider can receive it via text or email. 

When Not to Use Telehealth

Telemedicine has a variety of uses, and providers are becoming more creative in how to meet the needs of patients while COVID-19 is still spreading. However, there are some instances where seeing a healthcare provider in-person is the best course of action.

It's a good idea to talk with your provider and ask about guidelines for when you should schedule an in-person visit.

Ulcerative colitis can lead to complications and while that's not common, it's important to be aware of that possibility.

You should see a healthcare provider face-to-face or go to the emergency room for:

Tips for a Great Telehealth Visit

There are several steps that you can take to ensure that your telehealth appointment will go well and be productive.

  • Fill out any forms that are needed ahead of time. Check with the office about filling out any necessary forms and returning them. Sometimes the paperwork can be onerous, but it needs to be done.
  • Practice with the technology before the appointment. There are a variety of apps and services that are being used for telehealth appointments. It might be necessary to download an app or other software to have your visit. If there is a problem with logging in, it’s better to know about it in advance. Work with your healthcare provider's office or the tech support staff to get any problems solved in advance.
  • Try to create a quiet space to take the appointment. With everyone at home from work and school, it can be challenging to find a room away from everyone else. Eliminating distractions for a few minutes can be helpful, and using headphones or earbuds may also go a long way towards making your visit more private.
  • Having a video visit is not the same as an in-person visit and it may take a time or two to get used to this way of communicating. Keeping a list of important things nearby, such as medications, questions, and test results, may help in making sure all the important topics are addressed during your visit.

To help prepare for your telehealth ulcerative colitis appointment, use our downloadable Doctor Discussion Guide below. It'll help you learn relevant terminology, anticipate questions you may want to ask, and more.

Ulcerative Colitis Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Woman

A Word From Verywell

For the most part, patients are satisfied with telehealth and appreciate having more options available to them. Providers are also reporting that telehealth has been working for them because they’re able to see patients while keeping everyone safe.

There are times, however, when telemedicine isn’t an option, such as when it’s time to get blood drawn or have a colonoscopy. For that reason, virtual visits aren’t going to be the only way to receive medical care.

It's necessary to take precautions to avoid COVID-19, and telehealth is a tool that patients who live with ulcerative colitis can use to continue to receive care. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Telehealth: Delivering care safely during COVID-19. July 15, 2020.

  2. de Jong MJ, van der Meulen-de Jong AE, et al. Telemedicine for management of inflammatory bowel disease (myIBDcoach): a pragmatic, multicentre, randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2017;390:959-968. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(17)31327-2 

  3. George LA, Cross RK. Remote monitoring and telemedicine in IBD: Are we there yet? Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2020;22:12. doi:10.1007/s11894-020-0751-0 

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.