RA Clinical Care Standard launched

4 minute read

The ARA and Arthritis Australia have produced important new resources on rheumatoid arthritis and JIA for health professionals and consumers.

The Australian Rheumatology Association officially launched its Rheumatoid Arthritis Clinical Care Standard at Parliament House in Canberra this week.

Produced in collaboration with Arthritis Australia and led by Professor Catherine Hill, the new clinical care standard for rheumatoid arthritis spells out best practice in care delivery for patients.

The first quality statements in the RA clinical care standard emphasise the importance of early diagnosis and early treatment. If there’s a strong suspicion of RA, the patient should be seen by a rheumatologist within four weeks and start treatment with DMARDs within four weeks of diagnosis.

The next standard relates to safe and effective use of DMARDs, which means pre-treatment screening for potential risks and contraindications and ongoing safety monitoring that takes into consideration people’s circumstances over time – for example, vaccination status, comorbidities, pregnancy, impending surgery or malignancy.

The standard recommends directing patients to educational resources and reputable support groups, noting it can help people with RA self-manage their condition.

Another of the quality statements sets out timelines for disease activity monitoring, where it’s assessed every one to three months until disease activity targets are met, then every 6-12 months thereafter.

In the event of flares, worsening symptoms or treatment-related adverse events between rheumatology appointments, patients need access to interim management advice and care – even if by phone, email or telehealth – until a definitive review can be conducted.

The standard recognises the importance of access to physical activity and pain management services that take into account an individual’s circumstances, preferences and needs.

It also recommends annual check-ins on emotional and psychological wellbeing and vaccination status, and assessment as and when needed for cardiovascular disease and fracture risk.

The standard also acknowledges a team-based approach to care, with access to many of these services involving other healthcare professionals.

“Through collective effort and a shared vision for excellence, the RA clinical care standard is a testament to the ARA’s dedication to ensuring the best possible care for people of all ages with rheumatoid arthritis and fostering an environment of continuous improvement in rheumatology care,” said ARA president Dr Claire Barrett in a statement to members.

There are two summary versions of the standard available on the ARA website: one for health professionals and one for consumers. A full version of the standard will be submitted for publication next year.

Meanwhile, Arthritis Australia has launched a consumer care guide for juvenile idiopathic arthritis, with a consumer care guide for rheumatoid arthritis also due out in the coming weeks. Both were developed in collaboration with the ARA and co-designed by patients and carers.

“Nearly half a million Australian adults (000) are living with RA – our most common form of inflammatory arthritis. Juvenile arthritis is estimated to affect 30,000 Australian children and young people”, said Arthritis Australia CEO Jonathan Smithers in a media release.

“Both conditions are serious, painful autoimmune diseases and we need to ensure these communities are better equipped to advocate for their care, given they are facing longer waits to access care with our current rheumatology workforce shortage and face other barriers including cost,” said Mr Smithers.

The care guides aim to help patients and their carers “navigate management of the diseases against best practice standards and minimise the impact of shortfalls in clinical care,” Arthritis Australia said in a statement.

ARA president Dr Claire Barrett said, “We felt it was absolutely critical to step in now and give families battling juvenile arthritis and adults managing RA the best possible roadmaps showing the standard of care they need to keep their diseases well managed – and have better health outcomes ahead of them.”

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