The specialist rheumatology nurse is a central team player in the management of people with arthritis, highlights Sandra Robinson
Each member of the rheumatology team has a part to play. Like cogs on a wheel, if one is missing the wheel doesn’t turn. The specialist rheumatology nurse has a central role as we are usually the first point of contact if a patient needs information or support.
Specialist rheumatology nurses provide advice to patients about their condition, drugs, treatments, diet, exercise, wellness and self-management.
Our aim is to make sure that all patients are at the centre of care and are empowered to ask questions or talk to us about anything they wish. We can’t always help with everything, but we will signpost to other healthcare professionals or organisations such as Versus Arthritis, who may be able to help.
Specialist nurses run face-to-face and telephone clinics, attend multidisciplinary team meetings, present cases, and carry out research to make the patient experience better and ensure that their voice is heard.
If patients need to speak to us about a problem or query then they can call us on a dedicated support helpline. Because we work closely with other members of the rheumatology team and have weekly meetings all together, we can always ask for specialist advice should we need it.
The start of the journey
The specialist rheumatology nurse will see most people with inflammatory arthritis as soon as they are diagnosed. Patients will start treatment as early as possible, and need information on:
- Their condition;
- What drugs they will be prescribed, how to take these drugs and how to recognise side effects so that they can remain safe;
- The importance of taking the drugs as prescribed;
- The importance of returning for blood monitoring. Some of the drug therapies can be toxic, so we carefully monitor liver, kidney and blood function.
A person newly diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis can feel overwhelmed. It takes some people time to come to terms with the fact that they have an incurable condition for which they will probably need medication for the rest of their life. Specialist rheumatology nurses are there to support and guide at this difficult time, ultimately empowering the patient to take an active role in the management of their treatment.
Adolescence is a time of huge change and development; adding inflammatory arthritis into the mix produces many challenges. Some specialist nurses work specifically with adolescents as their needs are particularly acute. A transition service from paediatric to adult care, may be available too.
Younger adults have different pressures to older adults, such as education, first-time employment, pregnancy and young families. At this stage people often begin to adapt to their arthritis and specialist nurses are there to help and support these adaptations, individualising patient care to meet individual needs.
Older people face plenty of challenges too. My colleagues and I conducted a study a few years ago, and identified that most people want to make sure that their treatment enables them to continue to do the things they like, from playing golf and going hiking to doing their own shopping and household chores. The aim of treatment should therefore be tailored to ensure they can maintain or regain these activities.
Other challenges may include caring for elderly parents, and the existence of comorbidities such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, which can impact their arthritis and treatment choices. Once again, the specialist nurse is involved in ensuring treatment is tailored to the individual needs of each patient.
The bottom line
There is a real need to make sure that people with inflammatory arthritis are well supported from the point of diagnosis, and provided with clear information that will help them adhere to treatment and thus improve their long-term outcomes. The specialist rheumatology nurse is there every step of the way, guiding people on the way to self-management and beyond.
If you need to talk to someone about your arthritis symptoms or would like to find out about local support, contact Versus Arthritis. Visit www.versusarthritis.org,tel 0800 520 0520, or contact YPF@versusarthritis.org for support for young people and families.
PS Did you know that Arthritis Digest Magazine is labelled the best UK Arthritis blog from thousands of blogs on the web ranked by traffic, social media followers, domain authority & freshness?