New EULAR recommendations for the intra-articular (IA) treatment of arthropathies aim to facilitate uniformity and quality of care for this mainstay of rheumatologic practice, according to a report on the new guidance that was presented at the annual European Congress of Rheumatology, held online this year due to COVID-19.
Until now there were no official recommendations on how best to use it in everyday practice. “This is the first time that there’s been a joint effort to develop evidence-based recommendations,” , associate professor medicine at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, said in an interview. “Everything that we are saying is pretty logical, but it’s nice to see it put in recommendations based on evidence.”
IA therapy has been around for decades and is key for treating adults with a number of different conditions where synovitis, effusion, pain, or all three, are present, such as inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis, Dr. Usón observed during her presentation.
“Today, commonly used injectables are not only corticosteroids but also local anesthetics, hyaluronic acid, blood products, and maybe pharmaceuticals,” she said, adding that “there is a wide variation in the way intra-articular therapies are used and delivered to patients.” Health professionals also have very different views and habits depending on geographic locations and health care systems, she observed. Ironing out the variation was one of the main objectives of the recommendations.
As one of the two conveners of the EULAR task force behind the recommendations, Dr. Usón, herself a rheumatologist at University Hospital of Móstoles, pointed out that the task force brought together a range of specialties – rheumatologists, orthopedic surgeons, radiologists, nuclear medicine specialists, among others, as well as patients – to ensure that the best advice could be given.
The task force followed EULAR standard operating procedures for developing recommendations, with discussion groups, systematic literature reviews, and Delphi technique-based consensus all being employed. The literature search considered publications from 1946 up until 2019.
“We agreed on the need for more background information from health professionals and patients, so we developed two surveys: One for health professionals with 160 items, [for which] we obtained 186 responses from 26 countries; and the patient survey was made up of 44 items, translated into 10 different languages, and we obtained 200 responses,” she said.
The results of the systematic literature review and surveys were used to help form expert consensus, leading to 5 overarching principles and 11 recommendations that look at before, during, and after intra-articular therapy.
Five overarching principles
The first overarching principle recognizes the widespread use of IA therapies and that their use is specific to the disease that is being treated and “may not be interchangeable across indications,” Dr. Usón said. The second principle concerns improving patient-centered outcomes, which are “those that are relevant to the patient,” and include the benefits, harms, preferences, or implications for self-management.
“Contextual factors are important and contribute to the effect of IAT [intra-articular treatment],” she said, discussing the third principle. “These include effective communication, patient expectations, or settings [where the procedure takes place]. In addition, one should take into account that the route of delivery has in itself a placebo effect. We found that in different RCTs [randomized controlled trials], the pooled placebo effect of IA saline is moderate to large.”
The fourth principle looks at ensuring that patients and clinicians make an informed and shared decision, which is again highlighted by the first recommendation. The fifth, and last, overarching principle acknowledges that IA injections may be given by a range of health care professionals.