Objective: To evaluate a concise program of self-care education delivered by an arthritis nurse specialist as an adjunct to primary care for inner-city patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA).
Methods: An attention-controlled clinical trial; 211 inner-city patients with knee OA were assigned arbitrarily to education (E) or attention-control (AC) conditions. Group E received an individualized 30-60-minute educational intervention that emphasized nonpharmacologic management of joint pain, preservation of function by problem-solving, and practice of principles of joint protection. Brief telephone contacts 1 week and 4 weeks later monitored and reinforced new self-care activities. Group AC viewed a 20-minute standardized public education presentation on arthritis and received followup telephone calls (only to encourage continued participation in the study). Outcomes included the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) Disability and Discomfort Scales, 10-cm visual analog scales measuring knee pain at rest and while walking, and the Quality of Well-Being (QWB) scale. Assessments were made at baseline and at 4-month intervals for 1 year.
Results: A total of 165 subjects (78%) completed all assessments. After control for baseline status, group E had significantly lower scores for disability and resting knee pain throughout the year of postintervention followup (P < 0.05 for both). Effects were somewhat discordant. By 12 months, functional benefits had begun to wane, while the effect on resting knee pain had grown. The overall effects of education on walking knee pain, overall joint pain (by HAQ), and general health status (by QWB) were not significant.
Conclusion: Self-care education for inner-city patients with knee OA, delivered as an adjunct to primary care, was found to result in notable preservation of function and control of resting knee pain. The magnitude of the observed effects compares well with those of more labor-intensive and time-consuming intervention models. However, more sustained preservation of function and consistent effects on pain may require prolonged, more proactive followup, either by the patient educator or by a trained clinical assistant dedicated to the task of supporting self-care by patients with knee OA.