“I remember my own rheumatologist telling me that, although doctors have the facts, the people I would meet through support groups and camp would provide me with the next steps in my journey,” Ms. Morasso says. “And she was right. Having a rheumatic disease as a child or teen can be incredibly isolating, so the experience of being around others who understand what you’re going through is priceless.”
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Provide Ongoing Support to Patients
Adena Batterman, MSW, LCSW, senior manager of inflammatory arthritis support and education programs at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, says social workers are trained to provide psychosocial assessments, which look at the patient as a whole and in the context of the person’s life experience.
“This approach helps us to understand the patient’s needs and strengths, to support them in managing and coping with their illness,” Ms. Batterman says. “Many patients may benefit from a support group or short-term counseling with a social worker or other mental health provider.”
At the hospital, Ms. Batterman and a rheumatology nurse manager lead a free monthly support group for RA patients. Ms. Batterman says professionally led support groups provide a safe forum in which people with RA can share their experiences, challenges and concerns, and receive support from their peers.
“Many of these discussions involve real concerns and anxiety about initiating treatment,” Ms. Batterman says. “Participants get accurate, current information that helps to demystify their often complex illness and gives them the opportunity to process these concerns, supported by members of the group and with the guidance of the clinical social worker and the nurse.”
Ms. Batterman says this type of support serves an important role in patient care. Often rheumatologists have a limited amount of time to spend with patients to explore these issues at length, and patients may be reticent to bring them up.
“Our meetings feature a lecture by a healthcare professional on topics of interest to RA patients, followed by a support group aimed at enhancing emotional coping with the emotional effects of the illness and disease management strategies,” Ms. Batterman says. “The feedback we’ve received from patients in formal group evaluations is that, as a result of the group, they feel they can make informed decisions about their RA and are more prepared to discuss their RA treatment with their doctors.”
Ms. Batterman says support group topics include managing fatigue and pain, fears about medications and their potential side effects, coping with flares and sharing experiences with others who know what it’s like to live with a chronic illness.