With a generous gift from the Goh Foundation, the Goh Cheng Liang Rheumatology ARISE (Advancing Research and Innovation with Synergistic Expertise) Programme was established to advance research, education and patient empowerment initiatives that will improve the lives of patients with rheumatological diseases.

Rheumatological diseases are complex life-threatening autoimmune conditions that can affect major organs including joints, brain and nerves, heart and blood vessels, lungs, kidneys and skin. It is estimated that more than 600,000 people in Singapore, or about 10 per cent of the population, suffer from one or more rheumatological diseases. Yet, little is known about these conditions which include rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, among others.

“The exact causes of rheumatological diseases are unknown. As the symptoms may mimic other diseases, they are often difficult to diagnose early,” said A/Prof Andrea Low, the head of Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) Department of Rheumatology and Immunology (RHI).

According to A/Prof Low, early treatment within a “window of opportunity”, which can be as narrow as three months, can significantly improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. However, oftentimes accurate diagnosis and treatment of rheumatological diseases can come too late.

“It is critical to equip healthcare professionals with the skills and knowledge needed for early diagnosis and treatment of rheumatological conditions. They can then better support our patients and empower them to manage their condition better,” she added.

One such capacity building initiative is the part-time e-learning programme entitled, Clinical Rheumatology for Allied Health and Nursing Enrichment (CRANE), which was inaugurated in March 2021 for SingHealth nurses. CRANE is funded by the Goh Cheng Liang Rheumatology ARISE Programme.

The course content is developed by SGH RHI Clinicians and Advanced Practice Nurses in partnership with the SingHealth Academy College of Clinical Nursing. The course seeks to strengthen clinical assessment skills for nurses and allied health professionals and thereby, facilitate early detection and prompt treatment of rheumatological diseases. It will also help healthcare professionals deepen their understanding of the psychological aspects in rheumatology so they can better support patients. 

Ms Chong Pei Xin, Senior Staff Nurse, SGH, was among the pioneer batch of 12 nurses to complete the CRANE programme’s basic clinical rheumatology course in August 2021.

“The course has helped me upgrade my knowledge and skills so I can better care for my patients,” said Ms Chong. “The online discussion component was especially useful as it complemented the extensive readings that were required as part of the course. It has improved my understanding on the use of certain drugs to treat rheumatological conditions and their side effects. Now, I feel more confident in guiding my patients in managing their conditions,” she added.

Ms Chong, who has been a nurse in Internal Medicine for nearly a decade, is now a Specialty Nurse in RHI. “The course content deepened my interest in rheumatology and has helped me broaden my knowledge and clinical skills. When I was a nurse at the Internal Medicine ward, I cared for patients who suffered from a wide variety of illnesses. With my newly acquired knowledge, I am now able to identify patients with rheumatological issues during admission to facilitate early diagnosis and treatment. In my new role as a Specialty Nurse in RHI, I can better support patients with rheumatological conditions in their journey.”

RHI plans to offer the CRANE programme annually and expand its enrolment to nurses and other allied healthcare professionals beyond SingHealth and Singapore. As the course is designed for online participants, RHI can extend the course to nurses in the Asia-pacific region. An advanced version of the programme is also being developed.

The March 2022 intake of the CRANE programme is now open for registration. “With the planned enhancements to the CRANE programme, the gift will have a far reaching impact on the lives of patients suffering from rheumatological conditions, beyond the shores of Singapore,” said A/Prof Low.

If you would like to support the work of RHI in improving patient outcomes, contact the SGH Development Office at 6326 6378 / 6326 6728 or email giftstosgh@sgh.com.sg .