Early active treatment with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs has become standard management for patients with recent-onset rheumatoid arthritis. A number of questions, however, remain unresolved for practising clinicians, for example how early and how actively to treat and what the treatment goals should be. This chapter summarizes some recent data that have added important empirical evidence on these issues. It has thus been demonstrated that the formal organization of an early arthritis clinic shortens the referral time from primary care, that a delay in the institution of disease-modifying drug treatment leads to decreased long-term function and that early active treatment with pharmacotherapy as well as team-based care may increase occupational capacity. It is argued that adopting a day care approach in the initial encounter with specialist care may increase the possibility for patients actively to understand the disease and their own potentials to diminish and cope with its effects. The further development of care for early arthritis patients with new, potentially efficient but also expensive drugs will increase the requirement for a structured documentation of outcomes, systems for such documentation being discussed in the chapter.
Copyright 2001 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.