OBJECTIVES: Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a life-long liver disease for most patients . Telehealth may be an alternative way to follow these patients remotely . We aimed to evaluate the feasibility of telehealth in the management of patients with AIH. The COVID-19 outbreak during the study period provided an opportunity to evaluate any pandemic influence on how telehealth was perceived by patients and physicians .
METHODS: We included patients with AIH who were followed in the Harran University hospital, Turkey . Patients were managed by either remote telehealth or standard care . The clinical courses of these two groups were compared .
RESULTS: A total of 46 (telehealth, n=19 and standard care, n= 27) patients (40 female) with a median age of 32 (range 17-74) years at diagnosis were included in the study . Until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (March 11 , 2020), the rates of biochemical remission and relapse after remission were similar in the telehealth and standard care groups (89.5% vs. 89.1% and 15.8% vs. 25.9%, p=ns, for both). The telehealth group maintained remission significantly better than the standard care group (100% vs. 77.3%, p=0.035) during the COVID-19 period . All relapses were due to non-adherence to therapy . Psychiatric problems, pregnancy related issues and drug side-effects could all be managed remotely by telehealth .
CONCLUSIONS: In this study, we show for the first time that telehealth is a feasible alternative for managing AIH, both under normal circumstances and during the COVID-19 pandemic.