Group Therapy Shows Benefits for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients

A support group developed by a hospital in New York has shown that patients with rheumatoid arthritis can see their condition improve by not only addressing the physical symptoms but the psychological issues as well.

A support group developed by a hospital in New York has shown that patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can see their condition improve by not only addressing the physical symptoms but the psychological issues as well.

A team from the Hospital for Special Surgery looked at the impact of a free support group for patients with RA and noted that 90% of the participants said by having the group to turn to they could make better decisions about their individual treatment options. The results of the study were presented at the American

College of Rheumatology 2014 annual meeting.

Adena Batterman, LCSW, who works as the manager of the RA Support and Education program at the hospital, said the group is just one part of the treatments patients with RA can receive to improve their daily lives.

“When developing the program, it was important that the patients’ voice and perspective were being considered in how we identified the specific needs of participants,” she said in a press release about the study. “To ensure this, we obtained patient feedback from many sources, which included focus groups.”

The press release noted that the group is run by not only a rheumatology nurse manager, but also a clinical social worker and is open to RA patients diagnosed in the past two years. The meetings involve the patients providing support for each other and the organizers bringing in speakers to discuss relevant topics.

“A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is overwhelming and extremely stressful, so emotional and educational support are very important,” noted Ted Fields, MD, clinical director, Early Arthritis Initiative, Inflammatory Arthritis Center at HSS. “Meeting others with the same illness gives participants a sense of community and has a positive psychological impact. We also know that educated patients are more likely to stay on their medications, which is important in controlling RA.”

A 20-item questionnaire was developed by the hospital to see how effective the group was in patient treatment. The survey looked at how the patients were managing their condition, how connecting with others helped their treatment and “coping with the emotional impact of RA.”

After getting back 127 questionnaires the team noted that 90% said they received more informed choices from joining the group and that 84% said they were better able to talk about their condition with the group. Another encouraging result reported was 79% of participants said they were more confident in the management of the condition as a result of taking part in the group and 61% said RA was less disruptive in their lives.

“Future work is needed to explore how patients define ‘disruptive’ to develop targeted content to address this for future groups,” Batterman said. “We believe our process can serve as a model for including the patient perspective in evaluating outcomes in other disease-specific support and education programs.”