Submitted by Jennifer Barton, M.D.
Communication is a challenge in my practice. As a rheumatologist in a busy, public hospital clinic, I had the privilege of caring for patients who spoke Spanish (a third), Cantonese (a third), Vietnamese, Russian, Lao, Tagalog, or English. Much can be conveyed in a smile or a warm handshake, but this is insufficient when patient and doctor need to make decisions about a complex chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In particular, it was hard to identify how best to manage their conditions with one of over a dozen available treatments. In my toolbox, there was a gaping hole with no tools available to facilitate RA treatment conversations for this needy population.
Sitting at my desk on a Sunday afternoon drafting a grant proposal to create tools for shared decision making for diverse populations with RA, I came across a paper describing a clinical trial of a decision aid for diabetes. Diabetes and RA share many similarities:
- both are chronic diseases,
- both have many options for treatment with differing risks and benefits and costs, and
- both require substantial patient self-management.
This decision aid was colorful, broken out into “issue” cards – like baseball cards (except not by player, or in this case by drug, but by feature), which I thought would be a great template for an RA decision aid, one that could be presented in different languages for patients with limited health literacy.
On a whim, I wrote to the corresponding author to see if I could learn more about the process and perhaps even use their tool as a template. Within hours, I received an enthusiastic reply from Victor Montori at the Mayo Clinic. This led to a phone call, the proposal, funding, and the work generated from fruitful collaboration and inspiration.
The journey from grant writing to project completion was filled with many adventures. I had never worked with designers or with patients in research. I looked forward to the meetings of our patient advisory board. They were full of laughter and shared stories. Thanks to them I learned about real life with RA. I got a chance to listen to the patients share experiences living with RA, getting tips, and finding value and support in one another. Working with patients was hands down the most satisfying and humbling part of the process for me.
Our most recent paper describes the results of a pilot study of 166 patients with RA from vulnerable populations (racial/ethnic minority, age >65, limited health literacy, immigrant status, non-English language) that tested a low literacy RA medication summary guide and RA Choice, the decision aid. We showed that the tools improved knowledge and reduced decisional conflict in this diverse population.
Now after all the hard work, and the results of the pilot study showing the tools worked in our patient population, we want to share the tools and improve conversations for patients with RA and their clinicians everywhere. RA is a chronic, disabling condition which leads to early mortality. Patients made vulnerable by how we deliver healthcare to them experience worse outcomes, and communication in these groups still needs work. Our hope is that with these tools and continued attention to the needs of all groups in the RA community, we can help reduce disparities and improve care for all patients with RA.
Jennifer Barton, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine, OHSU
Staff Rheumatologist, Portland VA Medical Center
Dr. Barton is an academic rheumatologist with a research focus on health communication and rheumatic diseases.
For more information on Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Choice, click here.