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Cheryl Critchley
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Researchers at the University of Melbourne are calling on health insurers and government to support new remotely delivered treatment models – including Skype consultations – for people suffering chronic knee pain.

They have developed an online treatment that has dramatically improved symptoms and functioning for people suffering knee osteoarthritis, the main cause of chronic knee pain..

Research trial findings published today in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, suggest online delivery is the key to greatly improve patient access to effective non-drug treatments.

Knee osteoarthritis is estimated to affect nearly a million Australians, especially people aged over 45 years, and those who are overweight or obese.

Self management, including exercise, is critical for minimising the impact of this condition, which has no cure. 

Professor Kim Bennell, of the Department of Physiotherapy, said participants in the IMPACT project had seven Skype sessions with a physiotherapist to learn home exercises, and completed an online pain-coping skills training program over three months.

Compared to a control group, who only had access to online educational materials, they reported significantly greater improvements in pain, physical functioning and quality of life at three and nine months.

“Currently many people with this condition are not receiving key treatments but are relying on drugs, which have serious side effects, and costly surgery,” Professor Bennell said.

“About 30,000 Australians have knee replacement surgery each year, so helping people to better self manage can significantly reduce the need for surgery and drugs.”

Professor Bennell said the traditional model of visiting a health professional in person was not practical for patients from rural or remote areas, or with mobility problems.

“The patients and physiotherapists found Skype empowering, convenient and enjoyable,” Professor Bennell said.

Professor Bennell is urging the private and public health care systems to consider expansion of services to include online treatment delivery models that promote self management of chronic knee pain via exercise and pain coping skills training.

In December, the program, funded by the NHMRC, won the Research Into Action category in the VicHealth annual health promotion awards.