The situation at Dunedin Hospital in New Zealand was critical. A 2010 report showed that neither the hospital’s general practitioners nor orthopedic specialists were able to help 40% of patients seeking treatment for osteoarthritis. When a colleague approached Dr. J. Haxby Abbott with this news he immediately dovetailed it into his research at Dunedin School of Medicine at University of Otago.
Abbott, a 1999 graduate of the Master of Science in Physical Therapy who has also earned his Manual Therapy Certification, first learned about this topic as a student, when he heard Dr. Stanley Paris speak about how physical therapy could positively affect patients with hip osteoarthritis.
In 2008, Abbot launched the project at Dunedin by conducting a clinical trial. His research showed that physical therapy not only helped patients, but also reduced health care costs. After presenting his findings to the board, hospital administrators asked him to implement a new patient care model at the Joint Clinic.
By 2012, Abbott secured the funding for, developed and opened a clinic, and trained its staff, which allowed them to deliver an innovative practice model for the chronic care management of hip and knee osteoarthritis. The results have been profound.
“We decreased the unmet need by 93% in the first year,” Abbott says.
“Hundreds of people, who wouldn’t have otherwise had access, received expert advice and care. That’s ultimately why we do research—with the hope we can change the care available to patients.”
Abbott recently evaluated the program to assess how well the clinic’s services were meeting its objectives and patient needs. “The clinic made a difference in three ways,” he says. First, patients who had previously been turned away are now receiving specialized consultations, physical therapy, and management plans—which are intended to slow patients’ pain, and improve function and overall understanding of their condition. A third of patients with advanced osteoarthritis have significantly improved. Finally, the patients whose osteoarthritis didn’t respond to physical therapy and continued to worsen, around 25%, received the surgery they needed more quickly.
Abbott presented the results of his evaluation of the clinic at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting in Boston last year. He also plans to follow up with an in-depth report he’ll submit for publication. Still, he says the satisfaction of seeing his research put into practice is “one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career.”
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