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Physiotherapists lack confidence in rheumatoid arthritis

By Karen Keast | Last Updated: 19-11-2013

Dr Andrew Briggs

Almost 80 per cent of physiotherapists lack the confidence to manage rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and require professional development in the area, according to the results of a new Australian study.

The study, published in Arthritis Care and Research, found 77.5 per cent of physiotherapists reported a lack of confidence in managing RA, with most indicating they would benefit or definitely need professional development in RA-specific disease knowledge and clinical skills.

"The survey data suggest that clinicians in primary care currently lack the confidence to initiate safe and effective management for patients with RA, highlighting the need for PD to ensure that workforce capacity can meet the needs of consumers and health policy directives," the report states.

Australian National Health Survey, 2007-2008,

figures reveal 2.1 per cent of Australians self-reported a diagnosis of the chronic systemic inflammatory disease, that targets flexible joints and also affects tissues and organs.

The disease affects up to 1.1 per cent of the adult population worldwide and its prevalence in Australia is forecast to double by 2050.

Curtin University of Technology's Dr Andrew Briggs, a Research Fellow at the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, was lead author of the study, which included an international Delphi panel of rheumatologists, physiotherapists and patients.

The study aimed to identify the essential disease-specific knowledge and skills community-based physiotherapists need to effectively and safely deliver recommended care for RA.

"To effectively manage RA, community-based physiotherapists require excellent communication skills and disease-specific knowledge, including understanding the role of the multidisciplinary team and the principles of early referral, chronic disease management, and monitoring," the report states.

"Physiotherapists identified a need for PD to develop these skills."

The report recommends combining the use of clinical and research leaders in the field with a review of clinical practice guidelines to develop professional development targeted to the current and future workforce.

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