Study Shows Doctors Should Improve Arthritis Guidance

Megan Danielle 

A recent study shows that doctors today are more likely to advise arthritis patients who are obese to lose weight than they were ten years ago, although they are still falling short on counseling patients to get more exercise and learn about pain management techniques. A team of research personnel at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined how effectively the current system for health care meets the goals for arthritis management that were set by the federal government in 2000 as part of a program known as Healthy People 2010.

Improve Arthritis GuidanceOf the three primary objectives of Healthy People 2010, only one was achieved: having physicians recommend weight loss to overweight patients. The authors of the study said that physicians are missing many of their opportunities to help arthritis patients manage the pain caused by the disease and the disability itself. Lead author Dr. Charles Helmick, a medical epidemiologist for the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Arthritis Program, suggests that this may be because doctors who don’t have enough time could be focused more on the medication aspect of arthritis treatment and less on behavioral treatment. He adds that doctors may be unaware of how to connect their patients with the best exercise and arthritis education programs.

Roughly forty-six million adults in the United States are diagnosed with arthritis, which makes it one of the more common chronic ailments seen in the United States, according to background information used in the study. Osteoarthritis is the most common variety of the disease, and results from the wearing down of joints as people age. Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of autoimmune disorder that can be present in any age group, and is thought to have origins in genetics. The symptoms of both diseases include inflammation and stiffness in the joints, as well as chronic pain.

Some of the key ways to improve pain symptoms are arthritis education, weight loss, and regular exercise, and can result in a higher quality of life for arthritis patients. The study, published in the March and April edition of Annals of Family Medicine, outlined how the goals set by the U.S. government were developed using input from a number of professional organizations. Hemlick adds that the purpose of the study was to attempt to reach higher levels of the outlined objectives.

Dr. James Barber, an orthopedic surgeon at Coffee Regional Medical Center in Douglas, Ga., says that phone surveys are effective at collecting large amounts of data, thus eliminating problems with statistics when patient numbers are too low. He adds that the process is not as scientifically sound as if patients were studied more prospectively, but qualifies this by saying that the aspects measured by the study, such as weight loss, education, and exercise, were known to help patients. He also asks how the medical community can get doctors to talk more easily with patients about reaching these goals.