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Improving treatment for osteoarthritis: new guidelines released

New guidelines emphasise non-surgical, non-drug treatment

OA guidelines

Australians suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee and hip may now get more support to manage their condition with the release of new best practice guidelines for GPs.

The guidelines for knee and hip osteoarthritis – released by The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) in partnership with the Medibank Better Health Foundation – emphasise non-surgical, non-drug treatment.

Over 2 million Australians are living with osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a joint problem that can cause chronic (persistent) joint pain and difficulties with daily activities for those who live with it. Osteoarthritis affects the whole joint including cartilage, bone, ligaments and muscles.

Osteoarthritis is an active process of your body responding to smaller injuries in your joints. It affects over two million Australians, with the number expected to increase by 58% by 2032.1

Despite being one of the most commonly managed conditions in General Practices across Australia2 studies into the management of Osteoarthritis show that 57% of patients have not been receiving appropriate care. Data from the Australian Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) program have shown that for patients with Osteoarthritis in GP consultations–rates of drug prescription were three times higher than rates of referral for lifestyle management, and more referrals went to orthopaedic surgeons (68%) than to physiotherapists (18%).

Guidelines highlight new ways to manage knee and hip osteoarthritis

The following changes are highlighted in the new guidelines:

  • An emphasis on exercise and weight management for patients suffering with knee and hip osteoarthritis,
  • Advice to strongly turn away from using opioids in the treatment of the condition,
  • Only when a patient’s symptoms fail to respond to non-surgical treatments should knee replacement surgery be considered , and
  • A reduction on the use of diagnostic imaging.

What this means for Australians with Osteoarthritis

The new guidelines will be rolled out to GPs across the country from today.

Medibank’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Linda Swan said more than 100,000 Australians receive hip and knee replacements each year and Medibank is committed to supporting these people to get the best treatment.

“We need to support GP’s with evidence based research about what the best treatment options are,” said Dr Swan.

“We want Australians living with osteoarthritis to have informed conversations with their GP including conversations about preventive care like physical exercise and weight loss.”

The Medibank Better Health Foundation supports partners with projects that test new ways of improving health outcomes and patient experience. We are helping to turn research and evidence into action by working closely with both the research sector and clinicians on the ground. Find out more about Medibank’s Better Health Foundation here.

1 AIHW factsheet on OA 2017
2 Britt H, Miller GC, Bayram C, Henderson J, Valenti L, Harrison C, et al. 2016. A decade of Australian general practice activity 2006–07 to 2015–16. General practice series no. 41. Sydney: Sydney University Press

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