UAB Harnesses Power of Tech to Learn More About Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatologist checking finger joints for RA symptomsA team of researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham are collaborating with the Global Healthy Living Foundation’s arthritis support community to conduct a clinical study for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The news has been met with widespread enthusiasm especially considering the timely delivery during this year’s Arthritis Awareness Month.

The UAB team plans to use electronic devices to record essential data on chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis from patients and physicians. This RA clinical study is being funded by a $1 million grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

The study relies on a process known as Patient Reported Outcome (PRO) which collects data directly from patients and clinicians via electronic devices such as:

  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones

The data that is patient-reported will then be de-identified and incorporated in aggregate to help the team assess the effectiveness of various treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis.

Establishing the Best Course of Treatment for Arthritic Patients

“The idea is to facilitate the interaction between patients and their health care providers, gather pertinent information, and ultimately establish the most appropriate treatment regimen for that patient,” explained Dr. Jeffry Curtis, the associate professor in the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology. “It’s an effort to discover what treatments are working best for which patients.”

Rheumatologist diagnoses patient with advanced RAParticipants in the study will use electronic devices to record pertinent data while at home and during clinical visits to their doctor’s office. The team will upload various surveys on these devices which will ask patients questions like “how are you feeling?” or “have your symptoms changed recently?”.

“The surveys will gather data not necessarily found in a medical record,” says Curtis. “It will create an infrastructure to help people with a chronic disease be part of national research projects. It will give them a way to have their voices heard by both their personal health care provider and the overall research community, as well as policymakers in the delivery of medical care.”

The World’s Most Popular Social Network for Arthritis

With more than 67,000 established members, CreakyJoints is the most popular social community for arthritis in the world. They provide educational resources and support for people who have been diagnosed with RA and other forms of arthritis all around the world. It doesn’t stop at just social media connections either, CreakyJoints also sets up many in-person events throughout the year.

By collaborating with CreakyJoints, the UAB research team has gained access to an extensive base of connected patients with arthritic conditions ranging RA to psoriatic arthritis. This diversity should help ensure the best possible results for the study.

“We want to create an environment where we are continually collecting data on a long-term, ongoing basis,” stated Curtis. “Armed with that data, we can continue to fine-tune treatment strategies with a goal of remission of the disease. We are excited to be able to do this patient-centered project with funding from PCORI, as PCORI has patients involved in every step of its funding and review process.”

Comparative effectiveness research studies like this one are primarily focused on inflammatory conditions, such as:

  • Ankylosing Spondylitis
  • Psoriasis
  • Psoriatic Arthritis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

The latest biologic drugs have been designed to target specific aspects of a patient’s immune system. These medications have proven to be quite effective for most patients, but they come at a steep price. Building a database of information on the effectiveness of these treatments will prove to be a valuable resource.



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