A study at a Veteran’s Affairs treatment facility examined the use of telephone support for an osteoarthritis self-management program. (Annals Article) Osteoarthritis self-management is common, but usually consists of education and encouragement. It is often expensive and difficult to have frequent in-person provider support visits. This study used monthly phone support by a health educator instead of in-person visits. The alternative was usual care or a more general health education program. The primary endpoint was pain, with secondary endpoints of functional status. The researchers also calculated the cost of the intervention.
The telephone-supported self-management group showed an improvement in pain control compared to the usual care or health education cohorts. This group also experienced more improvement in walking and bending functionality. The self-management patients also appeared to set more goals and make progress on exercise and weight management. The cost per participant for the telephone-supported intervention was $118, compared to about $63 for the health education arm.
This study did not examine the effects over time of the intervention on health care costs or utilization, such as emergency room or even routine physician visits. It also did not report on patient satisfaction. Generally, patients have expressed higher satisfaction with care when they are more involved with it, as in this program. Even relatively simple telecommunications technology, like the phone calls used here, can help improve care.