A new online programme being piloted in Rotorua harnesses the power of digital technology and social media to enhance the support available for local residents living with osteoarthritis.

The programme is called MOA, short for 'Managing OsteoArthritis', and has been developed by Wellington-based digital health company Melon Health in collaboration with Arthritis NZ, and supported by the Ministry of Health.

Siobhan Bulfin, founder of Melon Health, said the programme was revolutionary because it brought together a range of support and resources for patients in ways that weren't available a few years ago.

"MOA gives you access to an online coach, offering guidance and support when needed via video, voice call or messaging; the opportunity to be part of an online community, where you can share experiences, support and tips with others living with osteoarthritis; a tracking function, enabling you to keep tabs on your progress and things like mood, energy levels, diet and symptoms; and educational resources that can improve understanding of your condition and how to manage it," she said.

Advertisement

"We're aiming to not only expand the type of support available to people but also extend how that support is provided, beyond traditional environments such as the GP's surgery.

"MOA can benefit anyone living with osteoarthritis, but its ease of access means it's particularly helpful for those who may visit their GP less often, for example, because they live in a more isolated community or they're less comfortable visiting a doctor for personal or cultural reasons."

Bulfin said MOA was about complementing, not replacing, the pivotal role of GPs.

"This is about working in tandem with the traditional health model to enhance the patient support available."

She stressed that unlike some consumer apps, Melon Health's programmes were not only supported by the Ministry of Health, but also fully integrated with the support and services provided by GPs.

Cathie Morton from Arthritis NZ added: "There's strong evidence that symptoms caused by osteoarthritis can be relieved, disability significantly reduced and the need for surgery postponed with early assessment, treatment and self-management. By making support available in the online environment, MOA is ensuring more people can access the help they need."

Bulfin said one in six Kiwis were affected by osteoarthritis, and all types of arthritis cost the country around $3.2 billion annually (based on 2010 figures). This includes health sector costs of almost $700 million (including doctors' visits, prescription medicine etc) and wider costs such as lost productivity.

Anyone living in Rotorua is invited to join MOA, by contacting their GP or nurse. MOA is free for users and can be accessed both online and on smartphones.

Bulfin and the team at Melon Health have created a range of programmes to date, addressing conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, as well as osteoarthritis, and they're continually working on new and updating existing programmes.

"Our goal is to do everything we can to improve the health of New Zealanders, by using digital technology and social media techniques to make it easier and more convenient for people to access healthcare support relevant to their needs and situation."

For more information, contact Cathie Morton at cathie.morton@arthritis.org.nz or (027) 241 0979.