Medibank-backed study shows way forward for better care of osteoarthritis

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The Medibank Better Health Foundation has supported a new study that has found two-thirds of Australians with osteoarthritis say they are faring badly with the condition.

Dr Jocelyn Bowden, from the University of Sydney’s Institute of Bone and Joint Research, said the PARTNER study is examining the benefits of getting both patients and GPs "on the same page" and with realistic expectations about how a diet and exercise plan can improve osteoarthritis.

The study found 57 per cent do not receive appropriate care according to current guidelines.

“Pain from knee osteoarthritis is such a big problem for so many people, and they think surgery is their only option, but there are other non-invasive treatment plans they can try first to alleviate their pain and bring back their quality of life,” said Dr Bowden.

“Our PARTNER study gives GPs a better understanding of the best management options available for osteoarthritis patients through an easily accessible, online professional development tool.

“We’re also giving their patients additional, personalised support and advice through a telehealth allied healthcare support team.”

Over two million Australians currently like with osteoarthritis. It is one of the leading causes of chronic pain, disability and lost productivity in the country. Three million Australians are expected to be affected by osteoarthritis by 2032.

There is no cure but there are effective non-surgical treatments for the long-term management of osteoarthritis. Some osteoarthritis is also preventable by avoiding excess weight gain and joint injuries.

The new study has the potential to provide GPs better access to up-to-date treatment information and providing telehealth support to patients to help improve their knee pain and function.

“Behaviour change is vital, and by working with both GPs and their patients, we can better assess which lifestyle changes the patient thinks they can achieve, what they’re actually capable of doing, and how this best fits into their lifestyle,” said Dr Bowden.

Study co-author and University of Sydney Professor of Medicine David Hunter said GPs are the key to better outcomes because they are generally the first healthcare professional people consult abut their osteoarthritis.

"We know a lot of people are receiving inappropriate, low value care, and the PARTNER study is changing that. From a patient’s perspective, osteoarthritis is incredibly disabling, and so when a GP refers them to a surgeon, many assume it is the best or only course of treatment available,” said Professor Hunter.

“If we can make a clinically important difference with this type of program to a patient’s pain level, function, and quality of life, compared to the usual care pathway, that will be really pleasing,” added Professor Hunter.

“The next step is looking at how we can scale and disseminate this program so it’s available for everybody. Without the support of Medibank, we could not have done this program, and our ongoing relationship will be vital for making the program more widely available.”