‘Patient Partners’ teach doctors

An aging population has put arthritis at the top of the list of age-related disorders. Yet many health care providers lack training in early diagnosis of the disease.

A unique national education program is tackling this problem. Its called Patient Partners in Arthritis. The idea is simple. People with arthritis use their own bodies to demonstrate musculoskeletal (MSK) examinations to health care providers and medical students. This helps the medical people make early and effective arthritis diagnoses.

About one in five patient visits to primary care physicians are for a musculoskeletal complaint. So the program has sparked great interest in the medical community.

Hands-on experience

“The impetus behind the program came from research that indicated primary care physicians were looking for further education in musculoskeletal diseases,” says Dr. Mary Bell, national director of the program. She’s a rheumatologist at Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

“It’s been so successful because physicians are recognizing that the hands-on experience, drawn from working with live case studies, significantly improves their dinostic skills and ability to communicate more effectively with people with arthritis.”

The program was introduced in Canada in 1996. Since then, 150 Patient Partners have demonstrated MSK exams to more than 6,600 medical students, health care providers, and others at 11 sites across the country. Searle Canada and Pfizer Canada sponsors the program. In recognition of its success, the company is giving $1.5 million to expand it over the next three years.

Patients selected, trained

Rheumatologists select the patient partners. They look for motivated people with arthritis. These people receive extensive training to help with the MSK examination, using their own bodies as teaching tools. Through the training, they also develop a better understanding of arthritis. This allows them to cope more effectively with the disease.

“This has been such a positive experience for me,” says Anne Lyddiatt from Ingersoll, Ontario, who has been a Patient Partner since 1996.

“Beyond the wonderful peer support of the other Patient Partners, because I have arthritis I am actually able to make a significant personal contribution, as opposed to being restricted by it.”

Program’s effectiveness
Studies have shown that the program is very effective in boosting a doctor’s diagnostic skills. Results include a 33 per cent improvement in MSK physical examination, with an improved systematic approach. Perhaps most importantly, the doctors gain an increased understanding of the personal impact of the disease on the patient.

One in every seven Canadians suffers from some form of arthritis. That number is expected to grow at a rate of one million more Canadians per decade, at least until the year 2031.

If you’re interested in getting involved with Patient Partners, call (416) 480-5792.

For more information on arthritis and arthritis care, call The Arthritis Society at 1-800-321-1433.