"We already knew that digital first-line treatment substantially improves symptoms of osteoarthritis at a significantly reduced cost compared to face-to-face care. This study is the first randomised controlled trial that demonstrates clinically important improvements of digital treatment compared to the traditional one and firmly establishes how effective digital treatment actually is in relation to traditional self-management care," says Leif Dahlberg, Chief Medical Officer at Joint Academy and Senior Professor in Orthopedics.
A total of 105 people, who were 45 years or older with a diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis, participated in the study. They were allocated at random to two groups where one was treated digitally and the other group self-managed their symptoms according to NICE guidelines. Patients in the digital treatment were connected with licensed physiotherapists via a smartphone application where they received education and daily exercises. Patients in the other group continued their traditional self-management programme according to guidelines and visited their general practitioner when needed. In addition to experiencing substantially less pain than the control group, the patients receiving digital treatment also reported that their physical function increased by 48 per cent - a stark improvement to traditional treatment where physical function increased by only 13 per cent.
"The results of the study really show how much can be gained by treating chronic knee pain digitally, and this will reduce the burden on the NHS, especially when we are going through the COVID-19 pandemic where services are already stretched. We hope this study allows health policy-makers to consider the potential in digital alternatives when it comes to treating knee arthritis," says Sameer Akram Gohir, physiotherapist and researcher at the University of Nottingham.
Osteoarthritis is one of the world’s fastest-growing and most costly chronic diseases. Figures from the NHS show that nearly 9 million people are impacted in the UK alone and Arthritis Research UK estimates that roughly 20 per cent of the English population aged 45 and over suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee, but the recommended first-line treatment, consisting of information, exercise and weight control when needed, is underutilised.
"The study shows the positive impact digital treatment has on the osteoarthritis burden for both patients and healthcare systems. Besides the beneficial outcomes in pain and physical function, the advantages of digital treatment are also lower costs and more easily accessible care for those living in remote areas far from the nearest physiotherapist," Dahlberg concludes.
Joint Academy connects patients with licensed physiotherapists to deliver its evidence-based osteoarthritis treatment through telehealth, making it a safe treatment option during the COVID-19 pandemic. Already one of the main providers of chronic joint pain treatment in Sweden, Joint Academy is planning to expand across the UK throughout 2021.
About the studyThe study was conducted by an independent group of five researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK during a period of six weeks. 105 people aged 45 and over and diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis participated in the study. All participants had a face-to-face meeting during enrolment. The treatment was then delivered digitally to the intervention group using Joint Academy’s clinical and evidence-based digital treatment for osteoarthritis, whereas the patients in the control group continued a traditional self-management programme according to general guidelines and visited a general practitioner when needed. The study is named "Randomised controlled trial of Digitally delivered first-line knee osteoarthritis treatment: the Internet-based Exercises Aimed at Treating Knee Osteoarthritis (iBEAT-OA) study" and was published in JAMA Network Open on February 23, 2021. The study can be found in full here.
About Joint AcademyJoint Academy is a treatment program based on clinical evidence and connects patients with licensed physiotherapists for a chronic joint pain treatment online. Through the program, patients receive important information and support to do necessary lifestyle changes that are sustainable, as well as individualized exercises to strengthen the affected joints and increase their function. The patients have a personal physiotherapist that guides them through the entire treatment.