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“I harassed my GP enough to get it caught early”

Meet Georgie.

At age 26, Georgie was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune inflammatory condition that affects up to 1% of the population worldwide.

Suffering from such incredible pain every morning that stopped her from doing simple things like getting dressed or brushing her teeth, Georgie sought help. And refused to stop until she got answers.

What we can learn from Georgie’s story
Georgie’s story is a positive one, one where the short time to diagnosis (2–3 months) meant that the disease was caught and treated early, causing minimal damage to her joints. So what contributed to this?

On the one hand, time-lags between initial symptoms and diagnosis for rheumatoid arthritis have universally decreased in recent years (eg from 24 months in 2000–2002 to 6 months in 2009–2011). Key to this has probably been a shift in clinicians’ knowledge of the disease and the motivation to treat – likely tied to their beliefs about the consequences of the disease and the impact of early diagnosis.

At the same time, patient empowerment remains an integral driver to accelerating diagnosis and treatment.

And Georgie is a great example of a patient who empowered herself by asserting her interests.  

She had an awareness of her own body and what is ‘normal’. So when her doctors initially sent her home, she didn’t give up – within 2 weeks, she was back, asking for answers. When the blood tests came back normal, she wasn’t demoralised. Her awareness, together with the desire to live pain-free, gave her the motivation and confidence to assert her interests in her interactions with healthcare professionals and persist until a referral and diagnosis were reached.

But she shouldn’t have to empower herself
Georgie’s success comes from being assertive – and not all patients will be. So what about them? Will they end up with a delayed diagnosis and the consequent joint damage that goes with it?

Communication is key here; and both parties need to be involved. The environment has to engage patients and give them the knowledge, confidence and skills they need to be active players in their care. Which will be necessary to bridge the gap between patients and doctors and enable them to share the knowledge they each have and help them make informed mutual decisions. 

Clearly great strides have been made in rheumatoid arthritis. But we can’t pause now; by looking at stories like Georgie’s, we have to keep assessing the gaps and continuously evolve the environment.

[Originally posted in]

12th December 2017