Objectives: To review the literature on the measurable direct and indirect costs of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in industrialized countries from a societal perspective and to develop a template for international use.
Methods: A literature search using MEDLINE and other sources identified 153 relevant published articles, press releases, and so forth on the costs of RA and rheumatism from the major Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in English and other languages. Sixty-eight publications provide some economic data for analysis and are included in the bibliography. Twelve publications provide sufficiently detailed and robust information for inclusion in country overview tables. The concept of varied costs at different disease stages measured by years since diagnosis and Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) scores is used to guide rational decisions in the allocation of scarce health care resources.
Results: Direct costs increase overproportionately during the course of the disease. The most important driver of direct costs is hospitalization, especially in moderate and severe RA. Costs of medication represent a comparatively small proportion of direct costs. Indirect costs caused by work disability can be substantially higher than direct costs, particularly in working-age patients. The total costs of RA to society, and the different cost components such as direct and indirect costs, are broadly comparable in industrialized countries by their order of magnitude. Major confounding factors for international comparison are different study methodologies and patient samples.
Conclusions: The cost template developed in this article can be used to estimate the likely costs of RA to society for industrialized countries. It probably will underestimate indirect costs because of their incomplete coverage in the studies examined. A long-term perspective is needed for chronic diseases such as RA to assess the future effects of early interventions. Treatment in the early stages of RA that effectively reduces long-term disability has the potential to save substantial costs to society.