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    Health Research at Medibank: Linking GPs to the latest treatment info for osteoarthritis


    Two thirds of Australians with osteoarthritis report they are faring badly with their condition, and 57 per cent do not receive appropriate care according to current guidelines.

    By 2032, three million Australians are expected to be affected by osteoarthritis, but some osteoarthritis is preventable by avoiding excess weight gain and joint injuries.

    The Medibank Better Health Foundation is proud to support this new study assessing the impact GPs can have on osteoarthritis care.

    For 2.2 million Australians, osteoarthritis impacts their physical and mental health every day. It hinders their work, hampers their ability to socialise and exercise, and causes them pain. It makes them second guess whether they are up to the dozens of little things many Australians take for granted every day, like taking the stairs at work, playing golf, walking to the shops, or playing with a grandchild.

    Osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of chronic pain, disability and lost productivity in the country. Although there is no cure, there are effective non-surgical treatments for the long-term management of osteoarthritis. So why aren’t more people getting the treatment they need?

    Osteoarthritis is not always managed well in Australia, so a new study from the University of Sydney is giving GPs better access to up-to-date treatment information and providing telehealth support to patients to help improve their knee pain and function.

    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, with realistic expectations about how a diet and exercise plan can improve osteoarthritis.

    “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,” Dr Bowden said.

    “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.”

    Education and advice on osteoarthritis, exercise and physical activity, and weight management are the best early treatments recommended by current clinical guidelines.

    “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,” Dr Bowden said.

    Study co-author and University of Sydney Professor of Medicine David Hunter highlighted the key to better outcomes is with GPs, as they are the first health professional people see about 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,” Professor Hunter said.

    Early anecdotal reports from the PARTNER study show a significant improvement in both pain and function, with formal results due to be published early in 2021.

    “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,” Professor Hunter said.

    “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.”

    This research project is proudly supported by the Medibank Better Health Foundation. The Foundation is committed to better health outcomes for all Australians and we fund research into key areas of need for our customers and the broader Australian community. For more information, click here.

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