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Education and Support Program Helps Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients

Update Date: Nov 19, 2014 10:36 AM EST

Research has shown that programs and support groups can greatly help patients, whether they are suffering from a chronic illness or a fatal disease. In a new study conducted at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), researchers found that a support and education group had a positive effect on newly diagnosed patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

"The Early RA Support and Education program, a part of the Early Arthritis Initiative at Hospital for Special Surgery, addresses the unique psycho-educational needs of people recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis," said Adena Batterman, LCSW, manager of RA Support and Education Programs at HSS. "When developing the program, it was important that the patients' voice and perspective were being considered in how we identified and addressed the specific needs of participants. To ensure this, we obtained patient feedback from many sources, which included focus groups."

A clinical social worker and a rheumatology nurse manager head the monthly program, which allows any RA patients diagnosed within the past two-years to attend for free. The topics that are typically discussed include emotional coping and disease management.

To assess the effects of the program, the researchers created a 20-item questionnaire focused on three categories, which were "Managing A," Connecting with Others with RA," and "Coping with the Emotional Impact of RA." All of the patients responded to the questionnaire after each session between March 2013 and June 2014. There were a total of 12 sessions with 127 completed questionnaires.

Under the "Managing RA" section, the team found that 90 percent of the people felt that the program helped them make informed decisions regarding their RA. 84 percent reported feeling more prepared to talk about RA treatment with their primary care doctor.

In the "Connecting with Others" portion of the questionnaire, 77 percent of the people stated that communication made them feel more hopeful about their disease. 89 percent believed that talking and sharing their feelings made it easier to cope with RA.

In the "Emotional Impact" category, 79 percent reported higher levels of confidence when managing their condition after attending the sessions. 61 percent said that after the sessions, RA became less disruptive to their daily life.

"Future work is needed to explore how patients define 'disruptive' to develop targeted content to address this for future groups. Additional research might also follow participants to determine how program participation over time and other variables affect this outcome," Batterman said according to the press release. "We believe our process can serve as a model for including the patient perspective in evaluating outcomes in other disease-specific support and education programs."

The study was presented in the "Innovations in Rheumatologic Care" session at the American College of Rheumatology annual meeting taking place on November 19 in Boston.

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