The steadily increasing prevalence and high costs of treating chronic joint pain worldwide poses a challenge for healthcare systems and healthcare payers. New research published in JAMA Network Open shows the effectiveness of a digital healthcare treatment with the potential to save insurance companies and their patients the costs and risks of joint surgeries – a finding that is especially promising as more patients turn to telemedicine as a safe treatment option amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A new randomized controlled trial (RCT) conducted by the University of Nottingham using Joint Academy’s (jointacademy.com) clinical evidence-based digital treatment for chronic joint pain is the first to find clinically important improvements of treating knee osteoarthritis (OA) digitally compared to traditional treatment. Patients receiving digital treatment reduced their pain by 41%, while patients receiving traditional care only experienced a 6% decrease.
“We already knew that digital first-line treatment substantially improves symptoms of osteoarthritis at a significantly lower cost than face-to-face care. This study firmly establishes how elective digital treatment actually is in relation to traditional self-management care,” said Leif Dahlberg, Chief Medical Officer at Joint Academy and Senior Professor in Orthopedics at Lund University in Sweden.
A total of 105 people, who were 45 years or older with a diagnosis of knee OA, participated in the study and were randomized to 2 groups. One group was treated digitally and the other self-managed their symptoms according to guidelines. Patients in the digital treatment were connected with licensed physical therapists via a smartphone application where they received education and daily exercises. In the other group, patients continued their traditional self-management program and visited their general practitioner when needed.
“The results of the study really show how much can be gained by treating chronic knee pain digitally, and this will help reduce the burden on the healthcare system, especially when we are going through the COVID-19 pandemic where services are already stretched. We hope this study allows health policy-makers to consider the potential in digital alternatives when it comes to treating knee arthritis,” said Sameer Akram Gohir, MSc, PhD, physical therapist and researcher at the University of Nottingham, and lead author of the study.
Osteoarthritis is one of the world’s fastest growing and most costly chronic diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 32 million U.S. adults are affected. It is also among the most expensive conditions to treat when joint replacement surgery is required. For the millions who suffer with the daily pain and stiffness of OA, treatments to slow the progression of the disease are limited. The recommended first-line treatment, consisting of information, exercise and weight control when needed, is underutilized.
“The study shows the positive impact digital treatment has on the OA burden for both patients and healthcare systems. Besides the beneficial outcomes in pain and physical function, the advantages of digital treatment include lower costs as well as making care more easily accessible for those living in rural areas far from the nearest physical therapist,” Dahlberg noted.
Joint Academy connects patients with licensed physical therapists through telemedicine. The treatment is now available under certain health plans in the United States and seeking to expand to become available to more providers and patients in 2021.
Source: Gohir SA, Eek F, Kelly A, Abhishek A, Valdes AM. Effectiveness of internet-based exercises aimed at treating knee osteoarthritis: the iBEAT-OA randomized clinical trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(2):e210012. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.0012