Comprehensive Care and Collaboration for Multiple Sclerosis

Reflecting on 2021, Mitzi Joi Williams, MD, the founder and CEO of Joi Wellness Group MS Center discussed the positive repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed for more freedom when sharing data.

The comprehensive care team plays a pivotal role in multiple sclerosis (MS) by ensuring patients receive well-rounded and supportive care. Within the scientific community, however, there is often a feeling that new data should not be shared ahead of publication, creating a sense of protectiveness about it in the field. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, this practice was challenged, as the community shared a unified goal of understanding more about the virus and having the most up-to-date information to provide for patients.

Social media played a large part in being able to readily disperse information, as well as monthly conferences and webinars held to share and interact with health care providers around the globe. For Mitzi Joi Williams, MD, this collaborative spirit is something she hopes will continue in the coming years.

Williams, who is the founder and CEO of Joi Wellness Group MS Center, further discussed the hybrid model that was introduced during the pandemic, successfully integrating telehealth visits when in-person visits were not feasible. According to Williams, telehealth allosws a convenient option patient questions in the event they are not feeling up to an office visit, while simultaneously creating an opportunity for providers to be compensated for a visit when they are otherwise not paid for services such as phone calls and paperwork.

NeurologyLive®: Are there any aspects of your care model that you have acquired from other clinicians?

Mitzi Joi Williams, MD: I don't know that there are particular aspects of care that I do in the clinic setting that I've learned from my colleagues, but I will say that the information sharing that has emerged from the COVID 19 pandemic has really been amazing. To see the collaboration from people from different academic centers, from the academic centers in the community, to across the pond across the world, across the globe, has really been astounding. I think that none of us would have made it if we had not been able to share this information freely—whether it be through social media, things like Twitter—people were posting about their cases. Also, there were many who were able to come together in monthly conferences, do webinars, and share their data. So much of my practice and understanding about COVID-19 has been learning from my colleagues from all over the country and all over the world. I've been able to implement those things into practice in real time because that information has been shared prior to it being published in a journal or published at some type of medical congress.

The other thing is that people weren't afraid to share their data. When you think about the scientific community, people are very protective of their data from their studies before it gets published [or] before it gets cited in a journal. People are very protective of that information and don't really share it freely, but [during the pandemic], you saw people in real time getting up and saying, “This is what we have in our registry. Please feel free to share. We're all trying to learn from each other.” And so, everyone did learn from it.

What changes to the care model from the past year do you anticipate having the most long-term standing in MS? 

I think one of the things that's been really distinctive is this hybrid model of in-person and telehealth care. I would hope that telehealth care is here to stay because it can be very convenient for our patients. Also, one of the other challenges is that oftentimes, as physicians, we do want to be paid or compensated for our time, and we don't often get paid for things like phone calls or other time with paperwork. We're able to not only see the patient, address that thing face-to-face, but we also can be compensated for the time that we spent addressing that [issue].

I think the other piece is that I've also had instances where a patient would be scheduled for an in-person visit, and maybe they weren't feeling well, and they weren't able to drive themselves, and we were able to convert that to a telehealth visit, to be able to address that issue and still see them and communicate with them, even when they didn't feel like coming in—instead of them waiting another 2 or 3 weeks, or another 3 months until we have another opening to be able to do that. I think that it affords for flexibility for both the patients and for the providers who are providing the care. 

The other thing that I hope still stays is this collaborative approach amongst MS specialists, general neurologists, and my colleagues around the globe. There has just been this amazing unity amongst everyone to try to find the scientific answers we need to be able to adequately care for our patients. We’ve seen a lot of synergy with people creating registries fairly quickly—a lot of things that we thought couldn't get done, are absolutely getting done, a lot of things we thought couldn't be done remotely, are absolutely being done remotely. I hope that some of this continues to move forward so that we can adequately care for our patients and have the best up to date information to do so.

Transcript edited for clarity.

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