Early diagnosis of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is critical, as the disease – which affects one in every 1,000 children – is most aggressive in its initial stages and can lead to joint deformities, poor quality of life and even blindness if not treated promptly.
Research led by Professor Helen Foster found that many children with JIA were seen by doctors who were not confident in their ability to examine children’s joints. This was due to a lack of professional consensus about how to do this properly, as well as a failure to address this issue in clinical teaching.
As a result, children’s joints were not being properly assessed, leading to delays in referrals to specialists for appropriate treatments so that, often, children were being subjected to costly and unnecessary invasive investigations.
The Newcastle team has developed a new tool for the examination of joints called pGALS (paediatric Gait Arms Legs and Spine), which is now taught as a simple clinical skill to medical students and is being used by doctors worldwide.
Professor Foster has collated much of her teaching material including pGALS and pREMS (paediatric Regional Examination of the Musculoskeletal System) to create a new website which has been launched in the UK, India and Africa. She said: “This exciting new phase of work will provide comprehensive support to ensure medical students and doctors have the tools to identify arthritis in children and know what to do after making their diagnosis.
“It is hoped that the new website will enable improved access to specialist care so that children will receive treatment more quickly, preventing significant long-term consequences for more children with arthritis around the world.”