Arizona Arthritis Center Participates in Innovative Study to Improve Doctor-Patient Communication

<p>Arizona Arthritis Center Participates in Innovative Study to Improve Doctor-Patient Communication</p>

Arizona Arthritis Center Participates in Innovative Study to Improve Doctor-Patient Communication

The Arizona Arthritis Center is set to begin an innovative study that seeks to improve communication between physicians and their rheumatoid arthritis patients through the use of portable touchscreen computers that allow patients to record self-assessments of their disease at each clinic visit.

These self-assessments are automatically scored and can be quickly reviewed by the physician at the clinic visit and then can be tracked over time to reveal how patients are responding to specific medications and other treatments for the potentially crippling disorder. The information also will help physicians determine how patients are coping with the disease.

In the long term, study organizers hope that this standardized assessment tool will help rheumatologists make "evidence-based medical decisions" when prescribing medications and other therapies, says William Lesley Castro, PhD, assistant director of research at the Arizona Arthritis Center.

Sponsored by Centocor, the Advance Profiling of Anti-Rheumatic Therapies (APART) program will provide the patients - some of whom are unable to use a pen, pencil or keyboard - a computer touch pad to answer a series of questions about their health. The information collected is kept confidential and is stored in a secure database. The UA and two other major rheumatology centers will begin a clinical trial this month to test the impact of the system on patient-physician communication and satisfaction. The UA study expects to enroll 350 participants.

In the APART program, patients answer a series of questions designed to assess the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on their life. Questions are specific to their pain, dexterity, mobility, and physical and mental function and are derived from several standard rheumatoid arthritis assessment tools. Patients also are asked to rate their level of pain on a horizontal pain scale and indicate the location of joint pain and stiffness on an electronic illustration of the human body.

"This study is revolutionary in some ways, but at the same time we're really going back to the basics by stressing patient-physician communication," Dr. Castro explains. "But we're using computer technology that allows us to have real-time clinical data."

David Yocum, MD, Director of the Arthritis Center, says he is extremely excited about the potential of this program and the impact it may have on disease outcomes.

"Eventually we hope to expand the program so experiences, outcomes and key findings can be shared among rheumatology centers throughout the country. The approach to chronic illness has vast potential and could impact how patients in other disease categories are evaluated in the future."

Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic, progressive disease that involves inflammation in the lining of the joints and /or other internal organs, is characterized by the inflammation of the membrane lining the joint, which causes pain, stiffness, warmth, redness and swelling. The inflamed joint lining can invade and damage bone and cartilage. Inflammatory cells release enzymes that may digest bone and cartilage. The involved joint can lose its shape and alignment, resulting in pain and loss of movement.

A Center of Excellence at the UA College of Medicine, the Arizona Arthritis Center is committed to both care and research to improve the quality of life for people living with arthritis. In 2001, it was ranked as one of the top 50 centers for rheumatology in the United States, according to a U.S. News and World Report survey.

To enroll in the study, patients must have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and be at least 18 years old, and be treated locally at The University Physicians Clinic, Section of Rheumatology, 535 N. Wilmot Road. For information about this study, please call Betty Guenther (520) 626-3618.