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Rheumatology (Oxford). 1999 Apr;38(4):303-8.

A 12-month randomized controlled trial of patient education on radiographic changes and quality of life in early rheumatoid arthritis.

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Rheumatology Rehabilitation Research Unit, University of Leeds, UK.



In rheumatoid arthritis, education programmes successfully impart knowledge but, notwithstanding issues of empowerment, this knowledge has to be translated into behavioural change to have a chance of improving disease outcome. Arguably, behavioural change must also occur early if outcomes are to be improved. For these reasons, we planned a study of patient education in early disease, with radiological damage and quality of life as the main outcome variables.


We performed a randomized controlled trial in people with rheumatoid arthritis of < 5 yr duration. The main intervention was a 4 week education programme, each weekly session lasting 2 h. Assessments were made at entry, at 4 weeks and at 12 months. The main outcome variables were the modified Larsen radiological score for the hands and the SF-36 quality of life questionnaire. Secondary outcome variables were the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ), Ritchie Articular Index (RAI), Patient Knowledge Questionnaire (PKQ), Compliance Questionnaire (CQ), plasma viscosity (PV), pharmaceutical changes and consulting behaviour.


The patient numbers were 34 (10 male, 24 female) for the control group and 43 (16 male, 27 female) for the education group. The groups were matched for age (56.5 yr for control, 55 yr for education), disease duration (3.5 yr vs 3.0 yr) and duration of second-line drug therapy (14 months vs 12 months). We found no significant difference between the groups for Larsen scores at 12 months, although scores for the education group were lower (39.5 vs 43.0, P = 0.13). The 'social functioning' and 'general health perception' subscales of the SF-36 showed a significant improvement in the education group, but no significant differences between groups were seen. No significant differences were found for the HAQ, RAI, PV and CQ, but the education group had more disease-specific knowledge than the control group at 12 months (PKQ scores: 17 vs 21, P = 0.0002). No differences were found for out-patient visits and in-patient admissions, but the education group had slightly more changes in second-line drugs during the study (0.43 changes/person in the control group, 0.51 changes/person in the education group).


We found no significant difference between the groups in our primary outcome measures, but a trend in favour of the education group was found in radiological progression. Further studies of this kind, using larger patient numbers, are required since the difference may result from improved self-care, better compliance with joint protection strategies and, possibly, improved drug compliance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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