Objectives: To compare in a randomized, controlled trial the clinical effectiveness of care delivered by a clinical nurse specialist, inpatient team care, and day patient team care in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who have increasing functional limitations.
Methods: Between December 1996 and January 1999, 210 patients with RA were recruited in the outpatient clinic of the rheumatology department of 6 academic and nonacademic hospitals. Clinical assessments recorded on study entry and weeks 6, 12, 26, and 52 included the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) and the McMaster Toronto Arthritis Patient Preference Disability Questionnaire as primary outcome measures, and the RAND-36 Item Health Survey, the Rheumatoid Arthritis Quality of Life questionnaire, the Health Utility Rating Scale, and the Disease Activity Score as secondary outcome measures. Patient satisfaction with care was measured on a visual analog scale in week 6 in all 3 groups and again in week 12 in the nurse specialist group.
Results: Within all 3 groups, functional status, quality of life, health utility, and disease activity improved significantly over time (P < 0.05). However, a comparison of clinical outcome among the 3 groups and a comparison between the nurse specialist group and the inpatient and day patient care groups together did not show any sustained significant differences. Subgroup analysis showed that age had a significant impact on differences between the 3 treatment groups with respect to functional outcome as measured with the HAQ (P < 0.001). With increasing age, the most favorable outcome shifted from care provided by a clinical nurse specialist and inpatient care to day patient care. Patients' satisfaction with care was significantly lower in the nurse specialist group than in the inpatient and day patient care groups (P < 0.001).
Conclusion: Care provided by a clinical nurse specialist appears to have a similar clinical outcome in comparison with inpatient and day patient team care. Although all patients were highly satisfied with multidisciplinary care, patients who received care provided by a clinical nurse specialist were slightly less satisfied than those who received inpatient or day patient team care. Age appeared to be the only factor related to differences in functional outcome between the 3 treatment groups. The choice of management strategy may, apart from age, further be dependent on the availability of facilities, the preferences of patients and health care providers, and economic considerations.