German centre uses Internet to beat rheumatism
publiziert: Montag, 16. Apr 2001 / 09:50 Uhr

Duesseldorf - A German rheumatism network is using the Internet to pool information and resources to fight the debilitating disorder that causes inflammation of the muscles and joints.

Kompetenznetz Rheuma (Competence Network Rheumatism) is putting together an Internet site that would allow sufferers to receive a diagnosis and suggestions for treatment via computer. Patients will fill out an online questionnaire and receive a computer diagnosis in return, together with contact addresses of medical specialists and self-help groups and the latest information about the illness and therapies. It will give them the chance to find out about the latest therapies as quickly as possible, says the organisation that was founded a year ago.

But the organisation - which includes the six German rheumatology professorial chairs, the German Rheumatism Research Centre, as well as numerous regional research and care centres and self-help groups - also hopes the Internet site will improve communication between researchers, general practitioners and patients. "It usually takes 10 years for research results to trickle down into everyday treatment of rheumatism," said Matthias Schneider, head of the department for rheumatology at Duesseldorf University Hospital, where the Internet site is currently being developed. "General practitioners are not stupid, they simply do not hear about new advances. I hope this will soon change with the help of the Internet." In future, he hopes more doctors will exchange information about new treatments via the Worldwide Web. "Currently only around 20 per cent use online medical offers," said Schneider. But if all doctors put the rheumatism treatments they used into a joint database, they could compare how colleagues combat specific symptoms. Around two million people in Germany alone suffer from rheumatism, any of several disorders that have in common inflammation of the connective tissues, especially the muscles, joints, and associated structures. The case of Christel Kalesse, of northern Germany, is typical for the course of the ailment. "My illness was only recognised two years after the first symptoms appeared. Until then I only had painkillers." After decades of suffering, and many operations, she is seriously disabled, can hardly move her arms and walks with great difficulty. Her obligatory health insurance company has so far refused treatments with good prospects of success because they are so expensive. Today Kalesse plays a leading role in the German Rheumatism League, a self-help organisation, and is also involved in "Kompetenznetz Rheuma". The initiative will receive one million marks (nearly half a million U.S. dollars) a year government funding for the next four years. Nearly half of these funds are being ploughed into 30 joint studies by various institutes. Until now, nationally coordinated research has hardly been possible, said Schneider. "Yet it is very important, because many of the 300 different rheumatism illnesses are relatively rare, so we need a wide database to be able to reach meaningful conclusions." The organisation's RheumaNet website already receives 20,000 enquiries a month. Useful addresses and preliminary information are already available. (URL: http://www.rheumanet.org)

(dpa)

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