Almost all patients can relate to the experience of trying to explain to a doctor what it feels like to live with their disease.
Irrespective of the doctor's ability to empathize, patients can't help but walk away feeling that they can't really be understood
unless the doctor has actually experienced the disease.
The booth contained six experience stations, each containing a sink and faucet with running water, a laundry detergent bottle,
and a real functioning taxicab door. (see illustration on page 80) Each participating healthcare professional was guided
through the in-booth activities by a sales representative, who first asked them to turn on the faucet, then open the laundry
detergent bottle, and then the cab door.
The difficulty opening the faucet and cab door was measured subjectively using a 100-point visual analog scale (VAS), similar
to the scale used to assess rheumatoid arthritis patients in several disability instances. A typical response averaged 80
VAS units, indicating little or no difficulty. A concealed digital torque gauge, similar to units used in clinical trials,
measured the difficulty opening the laundry detergent bottle. Each participant's results were shown on a personal computer
The rheumatologists were then given insight into the everyday functional challenges of their patients. They were given special
arthritis simulation gloves and asked to perform the three activities again. The gloves were developed to simulate the reduced
functionality of a rheumatoid arthritis patient, making the activities significantly more difficult. The ratings dropped from
an average of 80 to 30 VAS units—a drastic decline.
"The impact of the arthritis simulation gloves exceeded our expectations," says Elizabeth Weldon, research scientist at Georgia
Tech Research Institute (GTRI). "Allowing convention attendees to perform daily activities with and without the gloves, and
then providing a visual comparison of those experiences, helped to reinforce the message that arthritis is more than just
painful joints. It is the most common cause of disability in the United States."
GTRI is a nonprofit research institute that uses its science and engineering expertise for both government and private enterprise
to tackle just these kinds problems, and to find workable experiential solutions.
The data collected from an exit survey conducted with each participant at this booth showed that more than 96 percent of US
physicians rated the experience "exceptional" to "very good." Of the international medical professionals, 91 percent rated
the experience "exceptional" to "very good." A total of 98 percent surveyed said they "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that the
experience was helpful in demonstrating their patients' difficulty in performing everyday activities. And, 92 percent said
they were likely to visit the booth at future association meetings.
"The primary purpose of the experience was a bidirectional exchange of information, emphasizing that treatment of pain should
be only part of the patient's treatment plan," says Scrocco. "Avoiding joint deterioration and the resultant decreased mobility,
possibly through the addition of biologics, should also be a major focus."
Part of the program was a custom-packaged set of 24 specifically designed Web keys for participating healthcare professionals
to educate their patients and caregivers. This Web-based program allows patients to become involved in their own treatment
and outcomes through the use of proven methods of diet and exercise, as well as an understanding of the importance of medication
compliance. The set also includes a USB Web key that can be used by the physician's staff to train patients and caregivers
in the office or hospital setting.
John Ruane is an author, journalist, and healthcare communications consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org