A new Internet-based self-management support system developed by researchers at Deakin University is set to revolutionise treatment for people with chronic arthritis and may be developed for other chronic, disabling conditions.
The beyondblue-funded SteppingUp trial has sparked international interest, with several organisations and academic institutions in the UK signalling intent to implement the program and develop it further.
The web program was designed to replicate the medical advice and treatment people get from healthcare professionals as much as is appropriate and possible online. People who took part in the trial were able to choose and access online tutorials and worksheets tailored to their particular needs, also targeting many of the risk factors and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Participants reported a significant reduction in distress after completing the program - a 17 per cent improvement on the mental health assessment after completion - and most participating doctors and community health professionals have called for it to be adapted to other chronic conditions.
beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman said the research, which was funded by beyondblue, had made a huge difference among people who were at a high risk of developing depressive symptoms.
"This program has proven a huge success in reducing distress for people with chronic musculoskeletal conditions and we hope it will be implemented widely through public health providers," she said.
Deakin University's Professor Richard Osborne, who led the research, said the trial focused on the key concerns of many people with musculoskeletal conditions of 'being stopped from doing the things they want to do in life'.
"Living with arthritis and many chronic diseases can be a very lonely and miserable existence. SteppingUp offers a new and potentially life changing intervention, which can be done in their own home, at their own pace," he said.
Professor Osborne said SteppingUp could be adapted to people's specific situations, and change as they travel through their lives and face changing health and life situations.
"Some people clearly stated that taking part in SteppingUp changed their lives very much for the better. Never before have we received such strong and positive spontaneous remarks from such a large proportion of respondents," he said.
"SteppingUp is a really important opportunity for other chronic conditions. Clinicians in the trial strongly advocated for the expansion of the program to other chronic conditions; in particular diabetes, respiratory disease, cardiac disease and stroke.
"Interventions must respond effectively to the needs and circumstances of individuals, be suitable for people with low education and social disadvantage, be low cost, be applicable across a range of musculoskeletal disorders, and be feasible to implement within publicly-funded services.
"We are very hopeful that SteppingUp can be used across primary care, community health and the hospital sector to support more equitable provision of healthcare in Australia and other countries."