ACR 2011: Getting Policymakers to Take Musculoskeletal Conditions More Seriously

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Professor Anthony Woolf, Consultant Rheumatologist at the Royal Cornwall Hospital and Professor of Rheumatology at the Peninsula Medical School, Truro, UK, posed a very important question in his presentation at ACR on Monday: "How do we get policymakers to take musculoskeletal conditions seriously?"

Professor Anthony Woolf, Consultant Rheumatologist at the Royal Cornwall Hospital and Professor of Rheumatology at the Peninsula Medical School, Truro, UK, posed a very important question in his presentation at ACR on Monday:

How do we get policymakers to take musculoskeletal conditions seriously?

You would think that such a questions would not need to be asked considering that 44 million people suffer from arthritic conditions. These conditions are prevalent in all countries and cultures, and affect hundreds of millions of people around the world. But unfortunately they don’t receive the proper acknowledgment when it comes to health organizations and policymakers because of ignorance and low mortality rates. Woolf said that those mortality rates are a double-edged sword; obviously it’s a positive thing that not many people are dying from these conditions but that it can be a bad thing when advocating change to policymakers because they tend not to take it as seriously as, say, cancer or cardiovascular disease. The whole situation is even more perplexing considering the overwhelming cost of managing these chronic conditions. They can be a burden on the health care system because, even though there are ways of preventing and controlling these conditions, the treatments are not being implemented with equity.

But that’s where Woolf comes in. He has been strategizing ways to advocate change and has made tremendous progress so far. He believes that one of the primary factors for the lack of acknowledgment in this area is because policymakers are ignorant. With loads of data from decades of study, he has set out to bring awareness to the seriousness and prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions.

“Togetherness” was without question the underlying theme of this presentation. For instance, Woolf chose the umbrella term “musculoskeletal conditions” so that he could include data not just from rheumatoid arthritis or back pain, but also conditions such as fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, gout, spinal disorders, fragility fractures, etc. This approach would be far more effective than focusing on one specific musculoskeletal condition. He also noted that it takes the cooperation of stakeholders to enact change, and those stakeholders included rheumatologists, orthopedists, and patients. Woolf also knew that he would need to get some more credibility from health organizations like WHO. With a tremendous amount of data at his disposal, he put together presentations and advocacy groups with the intention of brining this information to the powers that be. He co-founded eumucs.net, intends to improve the health of EU Citizens by minimizing the impact of musculoskeletal conditions.” He began searching for others organizations with similar goals, partnered with them, and began having regular meetings to work toward a common goal. By working together, they have been able to achieve some great awareness, and even impacted the reporting that WHO was doing. Because, in many of their health reports, the WHO was ignoring the seriousness of musculoskeletal conditions completely, something that Woolf wanted to see changed. Since the risk factors for musculoskeletal conditions are similar to other disease like cancer and cardiovascular disease (smoking, drinking, etc) he began “co-marketing” these diseases and presented enough information to get WHO to begin including information about musculoskeletal conditions alongside those other disease states.

Woolf’s efforts are ongoing, and his ACR presence is a symbol of that. He continues to drive awareness, but is cognizant of what needs to be done in order to truly change things. He identifies the problems but also offers solutions, and his presentation thoroughly outlined the ways in which musculoskeletal conditions could simultaneously be managed to improve quality of life in a way that is affordable for all parties involved.

The activity is not sanctioned by, nor a part of, the American College of Rheumatology.

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