Greater access to a rheumatologist, a specialist who treats arthritis, may mean better care and an earlier start of treatment for patients with arthritis, according to research presented recently at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.
A Canadian study tracked the treatment of 29,297 individuals with rheumatoid arthritis over a five-year period to see how many were receiving disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate — considered the first line of treatment for newly diagnosed patients — and whether patients seen by specialists were more likely to receive these drugs than patients not seen by arthritis specialists. The researchers found that 9,412 (32%) patients were seen by a rheumatologist, and 80% of those individuals had used a DMARD. The remainder of the study population was seen by either an internist or a family practitioner, and in contrast, only 53% of patients cared for by an internist and 14% of patients seen by a family practitioner used a DMARD. DMARDs are considered the first line of therapy because studies show that patients who receive these medications have less joint damage, better function, and longer life expectancy than those who do not. In addition, results showed that males and patients of lower socioeconomic status were significantly less likely to be using DMARDs.
“It is important for people with rheumatoid arthritis, one of the most disabling types of arthritis, to be treated with DMARDs,” said Diane Lacaille, MD, MHSc, Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia and Research Scientist at the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada, and the lead investigator in the study. “We know from this study that it is more likely to happen if they are followed by a rheumatologist.”
The American College of Rheumatology is the professional organization for rheumatologists and health professionals who share a dedication to healing, preventing disability and curing arthritis and related rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. For more information on the ACR’s annual meeting, see www.rheumatology.org.