Cell Phones Helped Slow RA

Rheumatoid arthritis patients monitored by cell phones had reduced pain scores

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Cell phones have dramatically changed how we live our lives, from the way we communicate to how we organize our schedules. Now, it looks like cell phones may help arthritis patients stick to their treatment plans.

Using cell phones to monitor people with rheumatoid arthritis may help patients and their doctors figure out the best drug treatment as disease activity changes, according to recent findings.

During the study, the system sent questions via text message to patients every 2 weeks. Using the phone's keypad, patients answered yes or no to these questions, which included "Have you used the prescribed drug treatments?" and "Have you experienced any problems with the drug?".

"Keep track of any changes in your symptoms."

Previous research has suggested that frequent monitoring of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and treatments can improve the disease and patients' quality of life. However, it can be hard for many patients to visit the doctor on such a regular basis, which means many patients cannot take advantage of close monitoring of their disease.

Kari Puolakka, MD, PhD, of Lappeenranta Central Hospital in Finland, and colleagues found that the combination of cell phones and patient surveys could help patients get frequent monitoring and control their rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr. Puolakka and colleagues created an automatic monitoring system for cell phones called SandRA, which stands for Showing Any Need for Re-Assessment.

After 6 weeks, SandRA was programmed to ask patients, "What is the severity of rheumatoid arthritis on a scale zero to 10, when zero corresponds with absence of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and 10 as severe rheumatoid arthritis symptoms as you can imagine?".

The treatment goal for each patient in the study was set at less than or equal to a pain rating of 5 out of 10, which is a sign of moderate symptoms. As treatment continued, that goal was set at 3 out of 10 or less, which indicates mild symptoms. The end goal at 6 months of treatment was to reach a pain score of less than or equal to 2 out of 10, which means symptoms have almost completely disappeared.

Over the course of the study, SandRA was able to spot patients who were not meeting the targets. These patients were re-assessed before their regular doctor's appointment. In some cases, their drugs and drug doses were changed.

By the end of the study, about two-thirds of the 137 patients reached the target of less than or equal to 2 out of 10. That is, the majority of patients using SandRA were almost or completely without symptoms.

According to Dr. Puolakka, these findings suggest that using a simple device like a cell phone - which almost everyone has - can help doctors spot patients with early rheumatoid arthritis who have problems with their medications.

"We can also pick out those patients who are not likely to reach remission for re-assessment and treat them more effectively," said Dr. Puolakka.

The study was funded by the research foundation of Lappeenranta Central Hospital.

The authors reported no conflicts of interest. The study was presented at the American College of Rheumatology's Annual Meeting. As such, the research has yet to be peer-reviewed for publication in a scientific journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 14, 2012
Last Updated:
May 14, 2013