Optimal Management of ADHD - Episode 12

Optimizing Care for ADHD During COVID-19

Published on: 

Optimizing care and managing challenges for patients with ADHD during the COVID-19 pandemic and advice for clinicians educating patients and families on disease management.

Andrew J. Cutler, MD: COVID-19 has obviously presented significant challenges in our clinical work, particularly in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of patients with ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder] of all ages. What we’ve all done, of course, is acclimate to this, largely through the use of telemedicine, telepsychiatry for a lot of our patients. Although more recently, I’ve gone back to more of a hybrid model where I am seeing some patients live and some via telepsychiatry. 

There are significant challenges. Some of those challenges include the fact that it’s a little more difficult to do an evaluation and to collect all the nonverbal information that you might get from being in the room with a person. Part of the problem is you may be seeing only a portion of the patient’s body. You may not be seeing the lower half of the body if you’re on a virtual call. You might not see some of the fidgeting or hyperactivity, for instance.

Also, what I find is patients either do really well with virtual telepsychiatry or don’t. They have trouble focusing. They get distracted. It’s really important to try to individualize care for our patients. Some people try to do in-person meetings. Ideally, this may be helpful for the initial evaluation so we can collect as much information as possible. When you’re dealing with children, you’d like to have collateral information, so you’d like to have parents and caregivers involved. That can be a little harder too, although it can be done virtually.

As far as prescribing medications, that can present a challenge. Although now, states are going to e-prescribing. In Florida, we now have to e-prescribe all controlled substances. That makes it easier, not having to handwrite a prescription and somehow get it to the patient in a COVID-19 environment.

The other thing I find is that sometimes children do a little better in this virtual environment, but many with ADHD struggle more. There’s a lot more stress and difficulty in school. Obviously, there’s more isolation, so fewer social relationships, fewer extracurricular activities, and maybe less access to exercise, which has been shown to be very beneficial for ADHD. These are some of the challenges that we’re trying to negotiate in the era of COVID-19.

Tele-prescribing of stimulants presents some unique challenges in the era of COVID-19. Part of the challenge is making sure you can e-prescribe appropriately. Most of us have figured out how to do that. Also, you want to make sure the pharmacy is available and shows up on your e-prescribing software. It is required, when we prescribe stimulants, that we monitor certain things. This can be more challenging in this environment, particularly when assessing vital signs, height, and weight. Blood pressure, heart rate, height, and weight can be a challenge in the virtual environment. This is when I may sometimes have the patient come to the office, just for the vital signs and height and weight checks. Or the patient can get 1 of the home monitoring devices, which you can get at many pharmacies. These devices can monitor blood pressure and heart rate. Your patients can check those periodically and report the results to you. Or you can certainly have them email that to you or communicate electronically.

As far as monitoring for abuse and possibility of diversion, this is something we also need to keep our eyes on. We can do this in various ways, including by checking prescribing databases, which can certainly be done online.

As far as monitoring for other issues and problems, such as the emergence of psychotic or manic symptoms or the possibility of vasoconstriction or cardiovascular issues, this is where taking a very careful history and evaluation and trying to look at the patient and evaluate them as best you can on camera really seems to help.

It’s important to understand that when evaluating and treating ADHD, comorbidity is the rule. Three-quarters of patients with ADHD will have a least 1 other comorbid condition. This is important because sometimes our core treatments for ADHD can help alleviate these other conditions. For instance, secondary anxiety or secondary depression. Sometimes, however, we do have to institute specific treatment in addition to the ADHD treatment to address a comorbid condition.

Rakesh Jain, MD, MPH: When parents and their children first come to see me for an evaluation for ADHD, there’s often a lot of confusion. We have a lot of myths in our heads. “Is this bad parenting?” “Was this just because one of us got divorced?” Is it because I had too many Diet Cokes when I was pregnant?” 

My first job is to offer parents and children a combination of sympathy and encouragement. I offer sympathy for the suffering they have gone through and encouragement that, if we do the right thing, we can make a pretty significant difference in all the challenges your child is having and you’re having as parents and caregivers. I have found that injection of enthusiasm, support, and knowledge to be as useful as anything I do.

The second step is really a pretty quick but accurate increase in knowledge base about the disease. Most people are quite surprised to know that it is a neurobiologically active condition. It is an inherited condition. It is a brain-based condition. Even though behavior is what they might see, the child is not being a “bad” child. 

Finally, we need to give an explanation of why interventions work or why a combination of nonpharmacological and pharmacological interventions is best explained in the context of neurobiology. 

When I offer that whole package of information, from sympathy to increasing their enthusiasm and encouragement to disease-state knowledge and then finally medication and nonmedication knowledge, you can see the parents and the child breathe a sigh of relief. “I’ve got a direction. There’s something I can do. I feel empowered.” That is precious. As a clinician, once I see that, I know I have established a solid therapeutic relationship that will lead to good outcomes.

Transcript Edited for Clarity