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New Technologies Connecting Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients to Solutions

by Sharon Reynolds

Like most other 30-somethings across the country, Roberta Jones pulls her smartphone from her pocket dozens of times a day, to check email, text friends, and call family. But also to log her pain location and severity as it occurs

MyRA, has been available for patients with rheumatoid arthritis since 2013. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and pain in the joints, often affecting people’s ability to perform even simple tasks of daily living, like getting dressed or cooking dinner.

Developed by Crescendo Bioscience, which manufactures a blood test to measure rheumatoid arthritis disease activity, the app is free for patients to use. It lets them record where in the body they feel pain throughout the day, using an animated human figure on their phone’s touchscreen. It also lets them rate how that pain is affecting their ability to perform a range of activities, on a four-point scale from “easy” to “no way.” The app then generates summary reports on demand that patients can forward to their doctors. Patients can even discuss results and share solutions in a MyRA social community on – a leading social community and educational resource for individuals with inflammatory arthritis.

In this era of smartphones, fitness trackers, and instant communication, the time is right for technology to make greater inroads into patient care across all areas of medicine, explains Leslie Saxon, MD, executive director of the University of Southern California Center for Body Computing. “Many of the tools, software, and sensors we can use are already out there, and we can port them to medicine,” she says.

Feeling Better, Living Longer

Studies of simple yet useful technologies to improve patient care are starting to show that they can do more than make patients’ lives easier—they can also make them longer.

For example, in the summer of 2017, results from a clinical trial[1] showed that using a web-based system to let patients report their symptoms in real time during chemotherapy for advanced cancer improved their survival by as much as some new anti-cancer drugs.

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In that clinical trial, researchers split more than 750 patients into one of two groups. One group had their symptoms managed in the standard fashion: by reporting them at regular visits to the clinic, and calling the doctor’s office if they had any concerns.

The other group was taught to use the online system that collected information continuously during treatment for 12 common symptoms of chemotherapy. When a patient reported a symptom that was severe or seemed to be getting worse over time, the system generated an alert that prompted a nurse to call the patient, instead of vice versa.

The researchers had expected the reporting system to help patients feel better during treatment. But at the end of the study, they also found that those using web-based reporting lived an average of 5 months longer.

“If this were a drug that had a survival advantage of this magnitude, it would be priced at $100,000, and we would ask how…we get this into our practice,” said Harold Burstein, MD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, speaking about the results at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting.

The research team could not pinpoint exactly why survival improved with online symptom reporting. Possibly, by providing better symptom management, online reporting may have helped patients tolerate chemotherapy for longer.

The advantage could also be due to potentially dangerous side effects of chemotherapy being caught early. “That’s key to getting better outcomes” [in medicine in general]—picking stuff up early,” comments Dr. Saxon.

Sharing Experiences and Expertise

Today, social media allows people to share every aspect of their lives online, almost instantly. Websites allow people to rent out their homes, cars, and more to perfect strangers. The comfort that people feel with reaching out to others online has likely never been greater.