Help Your Patient Be an RA Warrior

By Mary Schmalfeldt, BSN, RN
Clinical Support Educator

Recently, I had an opportunity to do something for a friend I wish I could do for every person who receives a frightening or confusing new diagnosis such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Simply put, I let her talk. I listened to her fears and concerns, and I told her that she will not be alone in this battle. I wanted her to learn what she could do to begin to manage her disease and feel some measure of control.
She had already gone through months of suffering with painful inflammation and swelling of her joints, not to mention the stress of not understanding what was happening to her body. The pain was preventing her from being able to easily do normal daily activities. She felt so tired physically and emotionally most of the time, which was very unlike her. In fact, she said it was almost a relief to receive the diagnosis by her rheumatologist, as it explained why she had been feeling the way she had.
After hearing her diagnosis, she said she doesn’t actually remember much about what else was said at the appointment because she was so overcome with emotions. She knew she had some real work ahead of her, and that’s when she sought me out for advice since I had experience working with RA patients.
Below are the key concepts I shared with my friend. As Clinical Nurse Educators with VMS BioMarketing, we guide patients on these actions throughout their treatment journey on behalf of our biopharma clients. 

  1. The first thing I did was praise her for seeking support from other people in her life. I told her she needs to remember that she is the most important working part of her treatment team, which not only included her rheumatologist, but her family as well. Family members may need to become caregivers from time to time, and it is beneficial for all if they have a good understanding of her potential needs. I wanted her to know she is not in this battle alone.
  2. Education is empowerment, and this is one of the first steps to begin to manage any disease. I told her it is very important to educate herself about her disease and treatment, and I could help her with that. She needed to know that even though her disease is not curable, it could certainly be manageable with the help of medication, physical activity, stress management and diet among other things.
  3. I also shared with my friend the importance of setting goals for herself moving forward, but that the goals needed to be small goals to start out with. That way, when she achieves her goals, she can reward herself for her success and then set new goals.
  4. To help her make the best use of her time with the physician, I encouraged her to write down questions, fears and concerns so that she could address these at her next appointment. I also encouraged her to bring someone with her to future appointments, or to ask permission to record the conversation so she could better remember what was discussed.

I believe I helped my friend come to realize that even though her life was going to change because of her diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, she was not going to let the diagnosis take control of her life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis patients could learn to feel so empowered?