Physicians, Researchers Convene Summit to End Arthritis Disparities

Talib I. Karim | 10/5/2011, 12:49 p.m.

Arthritis is the single greatest cause of chronic pain and disability among Americans and costs the nation more than $128 billion a year in medical care and lost earnings. African Americans, Latinos, and women with arthritis suffer more severe pain and limitations, studies show. Specifically, African Americans and Latinos with diabetes are more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to receive amputations rather than limb-preserving surgical treatments.

With these stats as a backdrop, physicians, researchers, faith-based leaders and other stakeholders recently met to develop a strategy for ending racial disparities in arthritis treatment, research, and outcomes.

The gathering, titled the Movement is Life Summit, was organized by the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Health Disparities Caucus. The Caucus is an outgrowth of a May 2010 symposium on healthcare disparities convened by bone and muscle physicians such as the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

"Following last year's symposium, there was a consensus [amongst those gathered] that we had to do more to address the role of bias in the treatment of arthritis," said Dr. Said A. Ibrahim, Caucus Co-Chair and a faculty member with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

The summit was a next step in the movement that Dr. Ibrahim and his colleagues established to create equality in the treatment of joint, bone, and muscle impairments. While these health conditions often plague seniors, younger populations such as athletes are also affected.

Charged with the mission to decrease musculoskeletal health disparities among African Americans, Latinos, and other underserved groups, Dr. Ibrahim's caucus set two primary goals for the summit that include raising awareness of the bias in muscle and bone care and its impact on chronic disease management and quality of life, and seeking solutions to the problem.

Over 200 health professionals and other stakeholders attended the summit, held at the Capitol Hilton in the District. Participants attended the summit activities that included workshops and meetings with members of Congress, with funding from Zimmer, an orthopedic product company. Topics of discussion at the summit ranged from the importance of early intervention to slow musculoskeletal disease progression to efforts to reduce disability and encourage physical activity and daily movement to improve the overall health of the nation.

A discussion of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative, which encourages every American, particularly African Americans, to incorporate exercise into their daily routine, was included.

"A patient's exercise routine has been shown to have a clear connection with the degree that he or she suffers arthritis," said Dr. Ibrahim.

Further, studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that obesity prevalence is 54 percent higher among adults with arthritis compared with adults without arthritis.

Since exercise and diet are keys to preventing and managing arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, Dr. Ibrahim believes "there is a need to synergize our efforts with Mrs. Obama's initiative."

The landmark health reform law, the Affordable Care Act, was also discussed during the conference. Achieving health equity and eliminating health disparities were central tenets of the Obama Administration's health reform agenda---so central that "disparities" is cited nearly three dozen times in the Affordable Care Act. Further, the health reform law established the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and directed billions of dedicated funding to end health disparities in arthritis and similar health conditions.