Sunday, 31 July 2016

Help With RA Treatment Decisions: ANSWER-2 or a Decision Aid

My friend commented last week that in 30 years with RA she had never seen the new and far more helpful type of pamphlet or booklet called a Decision Aid. My experience was the same as hers - the only time I ever saw a decision aid was during training to be a Peer Mentor, so that I could be an advisor to people who were newly diagnosed. Decision Aids are are much more useful than an informational pamphlet.

Now imagine how useful it would be to have an interactive decision aid. That's ANSWER-2, a new tool to help patients make decisions about starting a new drug or staying on their current treatment if their doctor has recommended a biologic drug. Right now it is at the prototype stage and it is being tested against a decision aid. The researchers and patients who created it are conducting a randomized controlled trial. If you join you will be testing either ANSWER-2 or the paper based decision aid.

When I was finally diagnosed with RA it was almost two years after I first developed symptoms. At that time I assumed that getting good treatment from a specialist would make me better. I was wrong then, though the treatment did help. The good news is that better results are more likely to happen now than in the 1980's
I was so sick at that time that I believe I would have taken any medical treatment suggested by a doctor to get my life back to what it had been like. I knew next to nothing about rheumatoid arthritis itself, let alone the possibilities for treatment so I did exactly what my rheumatologist suggested.

Things are different now

Before the internet was available to us all, information was scattered and hard to put together. The facts I knew did not form part of a big picture. My doctor would talk about possible new treatments but my part in the decision always slowed down the process by months because I had to find and learn what I needed to know.
It was a puzzle, not a big picture.

When I heard of a way that would help me to make important decisions I was really excited by the idea. Now that a Decision Aid can be an online interactive tool it can be a whole new ball game!

Here's what happened: 
I had reached the point where my doctor suggested it was time to think about a change in the drug I was taking for rheumatoid arthritis. After 30+ years with RA and 8 years on my previous drug, it no longer seemed to be working. 

That made me a candidate to try ANSWER-2 so I volunteered. It was developed by Arthritis Research Canada (ARC) as a research project funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR), and is based on scientific evidence, not information from manufacturers.

That background helped because with government funding I knew that the intention of the tool was not to promote a particular drug. It was also reassuring to me that patients were involved in the development of ANSWER-2 and participated on the research team. 

The program started by asking me about my priorities and what I thought was most important. It helped me to balance the convenience vs my anxiety about a change vs worries over starting a new drug. This was exactly what I remembered going through the first time in other decisions about new drugs.

So with those personal preferences entered, the next area dealt with the potential treatments - On to the decision area! When I saw the possible choices I found that they were ranked in a way that made perfect sense to me.

This is what the first page of ANSWER-2 looks like. Sorry it's little small.

Another benefit in using it was a description of the drugs and the comparison of the risks and benefits of each one laid out right in front of me in columns. That really helped me with my choice.

As I went through the screens I could also watch stories from real patients as a part of the program (I even knew one of them).

Since this is a prototype more people are needed to test it. At this moment the trial is only available in Canada and the US. Participating in the trial will help the investigators learn whether ANSWER-2 or a standard decision aid is more empowering to patients.

To try this out it you must have rheumatoid arthritis and be considering a decision about biologic therapy - whether to start t or to change to another drug. If you are eligible you will randomly be assigned to either the online ANSWER-2 or else a Medication Guide in a pdf version. If you test the pdf you will have access to the online version at the end of the trial.

Click this link to apply if you are in Canada. The heading on the page is "SuPER: Supporting Patient care with Electronic Resource"


For US users please contact Sharan Rai at to enroll in the trial.

For US and Canada: 

To learn more, please contact Jasmina Geldman at or 1-877-871-4575. She can answer all of your questions.