A University of Wollongong trial may help osteoarthritis patients delay hip or knee replacements, or even skip them altogether.
The six-month study will test whether a non-surgical approach – combining general practice care with a tailored diet and exercise program – can be just as effective.
There’s much research to suggest it can, but UOW team leader Professor Andrew Bonney is keen to translate the theory into practice.
Two general practices have signed up to conduct the trial, and researchers are currently looking for patients to take part.
“There’s very good evidence that many patients living with hip and knee osteoarthritis benefit from conservative management like weight loss and muscle strengthening,” Prof Bonney said.
“It suggests that some patients might even be able to delay or avoid surgery because of these types of interventions. So we want to translate that evidence into practice.”
The team will use a “case-conferencing model” whereby a multi-disciplinary team including a GP, nurse, exercise physiologist and dietitian work together to help the patient follow a tailored plan.
Prof Bonney said if the trial, supported by Peoplecare, proved successful it could be expanded to other general practices.
“The immediate benefit is that patients might not need to endure the risk, pain, rehabilitation – and cost – associated with having surgery,” he said. “And there’s the ongoing benefits of improving overall health. It’s win-win.”
Prof Bonney said it could also reduce the financial strain on the health system. For instance, in 2016 nearly 100,000 Australians received joint replacements to treat osteoarthritis of the hip or knee at an estimated cost of more than $2 billion.
“There’s a lot of health funding going into joint replacements, but very little funding around prevention,” he said. “So if this proves effective it provides some incentive to policy makers around the way health services are funded.”
The UOW research team also includes exercise scientist Dr Deirdre McGhee, and dietician Associate Professor Karen Charlton.