I was involved in an inservice for our BJC Health physiotherapists and exercise physiologists. Our team already know about rheumatoid arthritis but my brief was to discuss cases with them and to try and give them a deeper understanding into this common disease.
I decided to start with a simple challenge.
Pretend that I'm not a rheumatologist, but instead, a patient who has just been told their diagnosis.
How would you explain what rheumatoid arthritis is? In terms that I can understand and comprehend.
I picked on Belinda first and then the others chimed in. The right words were mentioned. Autoimmune. Treat early. Effective treatment now exists. Inflammatory. Swollen and tender joints. Lots of stiffness. Deformity. Erosions.
They all knew stuff about rheumatoid arthritis.
But, they weren't very good in putting it succinctly and in simple terms.
This is of course, not surprising.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex disease. In fact, it's not just one disease but more a label that we typically apply to a certain set of symptoms and signs (check out Robert West's thoughtful & thought-provoking discussion about the genetics of rheumatoid arthritis as it does spark a discussion about the complexity of rheumatoid subgroups).
All rheumatologists would have a spiel that they adapt for the patient in front of them. The spiel is typically an oversimplification. By necessity, the complexities of the disease are purposely ignored (at that particular time). Instead, the key messages need to be sold. The patient can then begin a process of education, to whatever level of complexity that they are comfortable with, and over time, the rheumatologist can then introduce the more complicated issues. If required.
I ask you to help me/us with this starting point. I am very interested to know how you readers (patients, rheumatologists, academics, BJC Staff, patient activists) would complete this:
"Rheumatoid Arthritis is ... "