Inflammatory rheumatic diseases, with arthritis, cause more disability in the United States than heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. One in 12 women and one in 20 men will develop a rheumatic disease in their lifetime. These diseases often strike in the prime of life and can cause joint and organ destruction, severe pain, disability, and even death.
This isn’t new information to rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals, but many of the influential groups and people who make decisions that affect the rheumatology community don’t have this knowledge.
Enter the ACR’s new public relations campaign.
Need for Education
“People don’t understand what rheumatologists do and why rheumatology is important,” says ACR Communications and Marketing Committee member Eric Ruderman, MD, professor of medicine–rheumatology at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Many within rheumatology agree with Dr. Ruderman, and the talk of a public relations (PR) campaign aimed to educate others about rheumatic diseases and rheumatologists has been discussed for the last few years. On September 19, in conjunction with the ACR’s Advocates for Arthritis fly-in, the College will launch a targeted campaign to do just that.
“I think the campaign is necessary because of the significant impact these diseases have on the lives of those affected, the complexity of the many new treatments that are emerging, and the ever-changing pressures to provide cost-effective care that provides the best outcome,” says ACR Communications and Marketing Committee member Jody Hargrove, MD, a rheumatologist at Arthritis and Rheumatology Consultants in Edina, Minn.
“The campaign has three main objectives,” says Erin Latimer, the ACR’s director of public relations.
“We aim to elevate the importance of rheumatology, increase understanding of the work that rheumatologists do, and lay a foundation of awareness and understanding that creates support for more favorable public policy.”
It’s About Simple Tasks
Called Simple Tasks, the ACR campaign targets lawmakers and administration officials, referring physicians and physician groups, and other influencers who make decisions that affect rheumatology, such as think tanks and advocacy groups, Dr. Ruderman says.
The Simple Tasks concept and related advertisements illustrate the point that the simplest of tasks—such as brushing teeth, eating, buttoning clothes, or driving a car—can become impossible for someone with a rheumatic disease. For example, one ad shows a toothbrush that is bent out of shape (above), while another shows a fork with twisted tines (at right), visually illustrating these simple tasks aren’t so simple for people with rheumatic diseases. The campaign also points out that rheumatic diseases do not only affect older people—a common misconception, Dr. Hargrove finds. In fact, rheumatic diseases affect nearly 300,000 children in the United States; many other sufferers are in the midst of their careers and having and raising children.
The Capitol Hill Audience
During events like Advocates for Arthritis, representatives from the ACR will speak with lawmakers about how certain legislation can help provide better care for patients with rheumatic diseases. “Policymakers are a small slice of the general public, so unless they have experience with someone in their family who has a rheumatic disease, they usually know virtually nothing about them,” says Dr. Hargrove.
“When we make a Capitol Hill visit and we have five minutes with someone, it can be disheartening to spend four of the five minutes talking about who we are and what we do,” Latimer says. “The Capitol Hill component of Simple Tasks aims to help with this, giving our members and their patients more time to talk about the legislative priorities of the organization.” A focus group conducted in late 2010 and consisting of eight influencers helped to identify what kind of education is needed to avoid this kind of learning curve, she adds.
“Part of the campaign is to heighten the understanding about the frequency and impact of these diseases,” says ACR Communications and Marketing Committee Chair Eric Matteson, MD, chair of rheumatology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Influencing the influencers could make a difference in affordable medications, reimbursement, and rheumatology-related research, he says.
Beyond Capitol Hill
The campaign also aims to raise the awareness of rheumatology among patient care advocacy groups and nonrheumatologist physicians. Research for the campaign found that physicians often have a misconception of what rheumatology does, or may not have much awareness of the specialty at all. For example, there are cases of family practitioners treating rheumatoid arthritis, while such a practice would not be considered acceptable if the patient had lung cancer, Dr. Ruderman says.
Another example is someone with musculoskeletal complications being referred to an orthopedist. Although that person may need an orthopedist or related surgery at some point in their care, they would usually do best starting with a rheumatologist, Dr. Ruderman says.
For these reasons, the Simple Tasks campaign points out the special knowledge and care that rheumatologists provide as well as the importance of early and appropriate treatment by a rheumatologist.
Physician and advocacy groups the campaign will target include the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Physicians. Campaign leaders hope the campaign’s audience garners an awareness of rheumatic diseases along the lines of the awareness for breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, and hypertension—all important health conditions but ones where some may have an exaggerated sense of their risk. Those conditions tend to have more resources devoted toward them; some rheumatic diseases have just as high a risk of occurring as some of these more well-known diseases, but fewer resources and research, Dr. Matteson says.
A number of focus groups and surveys were used to determine what materials would be used in the campaign, Latimer says.
As part of the campaign launch, the ACR has written a white paper, “Rheumatic diseases in America: The problem, the impact, and the answers.” The paper culls information from more than 55 sources and builds the campaign’s core case for rheumatology.
The ACR has also placed advertisements in publications read by policymakers such as Politico, The Hill, and Roll Call. One ad that ran in advance of the campaign launch—in the May 19 issue of The Hill—reached almost 21,000 readers.
There is also a speakers’ bureau, videos, and case studies that feature patients affected by rheumatic diseases, Latimer says. “There are a number of components to this campaign that will allow us to reach our audience in ways that will truly resonate with them,” she notes.
Policymakers are a small slice of the general public, so unless they have experience with someone in their family who has a rheumatic disease, they usually know virtually nothing about them.
“The College needed a starting point for its PR efforts,” says ACR President David Borenstein, MD. “Our initial member research showed these influential groups and the topic of inflammatory rheumatic diseases as a good place to start.”
The focus and direction of Simple Tasks is not a departure from other important issues in rheumatology, but a place for the ACR to start its PR work. “The College and its members are devoted to advancing rheumatology, and this mission is being met in a number of ways throughout the College’s work,” Latimer says. This campaign is an addition to the ongoing media relations work of the College as well as its participation in other campaigns such as its Choose Rheumatology mini-campaign (aimed at attracting medical students to rheumatology) and its work with the Arthritis Foundation/Ad Council Fight Arthritis Pain campaign (devoted to osteoarthritis awareness).
ACR members can get involved in the Simple Tasks campaign by visiting www.SimpleTasks.org and clicking on the Member button.
Vanessa Caceres is a freelance medical writer in Bradenton, Florida.