Study finds digital treatment for osteoarthritis is superior to traditional routine care

Joint Academy’s online treatment effectively addresses growing and costly chronic disease safely during the global pandemic.

Example of osteoarthritis exercise using Joint Academy. Joint Academy photo

Chelsea Taylor, EurekAlert! AAAS February 24, 2021

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 today 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 clinical evidence-based digital treatment for chronic joint pain is the first to find clinically important improvements of treating knee osteoarthritis digitally compared to traditional treatment. Patients receiving digital treatment reduced their pain by 41 percent, while patients receiving traditional care only experienced a 6 percent 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 effective digital treatment actually is in relation to traditional self-management care,” says Leif Dahlberg, Chief Medical Officer at Joint Academy and Senior Professor in Orthopedics at Lund University.

A total of 105 people, who were 45 years or older with a diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis, participated in the study. They were allocated at random to two groups. One 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”, says Sameer Akram Gohir, physical therapist and researcher at the University of Nottingham.

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 osteoarthritis, 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 osteoarthritis 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 concludes.

Joint Academy connects patients with licensed physical therapists through telemedicine, making it a safe treatment option during the COVID-19 pandemic. 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.

About the Study
The study was conducted by an independent group of five researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK during a period of six weeks. 105 people aged 45 and over and diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis participated in the study. All participants had a face-to-face meeting during enrolment and after six weeks. The treatment was then delivered digitally to the intervention group using Joint Academy’s clinical and evidence-based digital treatment for osteoarthritis, whereas the patients in the control group continued a traditional self-management programme according to general guidelines and visited a general practitioner when needed. The study can be found in full here.
About Joint Academy
Joint Academy is a treatment program based on clinical evidence and connects patients with licensed physical therapists for a chronic joint pain treatment online. Through the program, patients receive important information and support to do necessary lifestyle changes that are sustainable, as well as individualized exercises to strengthen the affected joints and increase their function. The patients have a personal physical therapist that guides them through the entire treatment.

Source EurekAlert! AAAS


Effectiveness of Internet-Based Exercises Aimed at Treating Knee Osteoarthritis: The iBEAT-OA Randomized Clinical Trial, Gohir SA, Eek F, Kelly A, Abhishek A, Valdes AM. JAMA Netw Open. 2021 Feb 1;4(2):e210012. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.0012. Full text

  Further reading

Telerehabilitation in the Age of COVID-19: An Opportunity for Learning Health System Research, Prvu Bettger J, Resnik LJ. Phys Ther. 2020 Oct 30;100(11):1913-1916. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzaa151. Full text

COVID-19 and the Advancement of Digital Physical Therapist Practice and Telehealth, Lee AC. Phys Ther. 2020 Jul 19;100(7):1054-1057. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzaa079. Full text

The Essential Role of Home- and Community-Based Physical Therapists During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Falvey JR, Krafft C, Kornetti D. Phys Ther. 2020 Jul 19;100(7):1058-1061. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzaa069. Full text

Costing analysis of a digital first-line treatment platform for patients with knee and hip osteoarthritis in Sweden, Ekman B, Nero H, Lohmander LS, Dahlberg LE. PLoS One. 2020 Aug 12;15(8):e0236342. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0236342. Full text

Socioeconomic status of patients in a Swedish national self-management program for osteoarthritis compared with the general population-a descriptive observational study, Gustafsson K, Kvist J, Eriksson M, Dahlberg LE, Rolfson O. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2020 Jan 6;21(1):10. doi: 10.1186/s12891-019-3016-z. Full text

Evaluating the efficacy of Internet-Based Exercise programme Aimed at Treating knee Osteoarthritis (iBEAT-OA) in the community: a study protocol for a randomised controlled trial, Gohir SA, Greenhaff P, Abhishek A, Valdes AM. BMJ Open. 2019 Oct 28;9(10):e030564. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-030564. Full text

A Web-Based Platform for Patients With Osteoarthritis of the Hip and Knee: A Pilot Study, Dahlberg LE, Grahn D, Dahlberg JE, Thorstensson CA. JMIR Res Protoc. 2016 Jun 3;5(2):e115. doi: 10.2196/resprot.5665. Full text

Also see
Major savings possible with app-based osteoarthritis treatment Lund University

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