The Pharmacia Patient Partner Program


The Pharmacia corporation / formerly Searle / Currently Pfizer pharmaceutical company, has developed a major patient based support system. This was introduced in 1992 in the USA, at the University of Texas, South Western Medical Center, and has spread around the USA and to other countries. The program reached South Africa in 1997.

The program is intended to empower patients over their disease, and encourage self help and education. Thereby, these involved patients are to be used in a country-wide campaign to educate doctors, nursing staff, students and other patients. The project is aimed at expanding knowledge and understanding of the Rheumatic diseases. The patients are trained by Patient Partner Educators from the United States of America initially and thereafter further patients are recruited and trained by local educators. These educators, are patients themselves, who have gone through Patient Partner Education programs.

The patients in addition have also received additional training by enrolling and completing a "self-help" course. Further training and training of others is an ongoing process.

As a Cape Town based Rheumatologist I personally, attended workshops in the USA with Patient partners in San Francisco 1995 and participated in feedback meetings in Scotland 1999 and South Africa 2000, and have seen it grow successfully and have thoroughly enjoyed participating in the program. It has my wholehearted support and encouragement. Several of my own patients are amongst the local patients enrolled.

In South Africa, the inspiration in introducing, developing and maintaining the program was Linda Wiggill, (left) from Searle, South Africa. However, the management from day-to-day moved in 1999 into the hands of Johannesburg patient partner, Debbie Els, and thereafter and currently, Paris Drazek, in 2001, who is now virtually full time involved in organizing the huge nationwide program and of patient partners, who now number 36 located in 5 centers, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bloemfontein.

Patients are selected, who have typical changes of either Rheumatoid Arthritis, or Osteoarthritis. They should be able to communicate well, have a positive attitude, and are able to transmit this and inspire others. There is a fairly intensive training program, during which, the patients have to learn aspects of the musculoskeletal anatomy, medical terminology pertaining to arthritis, and the joint examination.

Once trained,  these patients are used to educate doctors, students and other patients. In fact the program is now a compulsory part of student curriculum at University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch and is in use at other University centers in South Africa. Feedback has been excellent from medical practitioners and students and also the patients themselves.

Through communication "one on one" with family practitioners, doctors will get a better understanding of the practical issues facing arthritis Patients, in their daily lives. Further, there is a focus on the examination, and with that comes a refinement of examining skills. The Patient Partners also attend Continuing Medical Education meetings, and Seminars - often under the guidance of the local Rheumatologists. In this way, doctors and students receive a totally new view of Rheumatology and Arthritis assessment and management.

The ultimate goal is improvement of the quality of Arthritis Care.

Thanks go out from me to Pharmacia for the outstanding efforts to promote and guide the program in our country. I remain convinced that it represents a wonderful new way to educate patients, students and doctors, regarding Arthritis. Our patients can only benefit from these efforts.

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