The addition of a rheumatology nurse to the rheumatologist-only model of care in hospital outpatient clinics could reduce treatment delays, improve patient outcomes and decrease the average cost of treatment per person.
According to the economic modelling commissioned by Arthritis Australia the proportion of patients seen within clinically relevant time frames would increase from 23% to 47.5%.
It also found the proportion of patients achieving remission from inflammatory arthritis at four years would increase from 23.1% in the rheumatologist-only clinic to 31.6% with nurse support.
The average cost of treatment over four years would reduce from $11,373 to $10,483 per person. However, due to the increased number of patients treated, the total cost of providing care would increase by 35.2% ($6.549 million).
The report Rheumatology nurses: Adding value to arthritis care, also said there were benefits in incorporating rheumatology nurses into private practice, where about 80% of rheumatology care was provided.
CEO of Arthritis Australia Ainslie Cahill said rheumatology nurses could help mitigate the predicted rheumatology workforce shortage.
“As it stands, this will only get worse in the future as a result of a growing shortage of rheumatologists and demographic trends. Greater use of rheumatology nurses in Australia can help to address these issues and support improved care and better outcomes for people living with severe and inflammatory forms of arthritis,” she said.
“For these reasons, we call on the Federal, State and Territory governments to provide dedicated funding to train and employ more rheumatology nurses.”
The report, prepared by the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, said there were only about 50 rheumatology nurses in Australia to help support 1.7 million people living with inflammatory arthritis.
It said rheumatology nurses could assist with patient triage, care coordination and follow-up. They were also well positioned to provide information, education and support for patient self-management.
Other potential areas of practice included pharmacotherapy monitoring, assisting with joint aspiration and clinical trials.
The report found only 23% of people with severe and inflammatory arthritis they surveyed had ever seen a rheumatology nurse as part of their care.
Those who had seen a rheumatology nurse reported higher rates of satisfaction across all aspects of their care than those who had not.