Do primary care physicians have a place in the management of rheumatoid arthritis?

Joint Bone Spine. 2004 May;71(3):190-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jbspin.2003.09.003.


Objective: Few recommendations have been issued about the management of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which varies widely across physicians. The primary care physician (PCP) plays a unique role as the first physician to evaluate the patient. The objective of this study was to evaluate the place of PCPs in the management of RA.

Methods: Medline was searched for articles reporting management of rheumatoid arthritis in primary care practice.

Results: Currently, the goal of initiating a disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) early is unrealistic for numerous patients. Agreement between PCPs and rheumatologists about the diagnosis of RA is only passable, but PCPs tend to overdiagnose RA. Median time from symptom onset to second-line treatment was 19 months and the best predictive factor for a longer lag time before DMARD prescription was the time from symptom onset to the first rheumatologist visit. Moreover, DMARDs are only rarely prescribed by PCPs. Some data suggest that the impact of rheumatologists care is positive on outcomes but it has to be confirmed by longitudinal, randomized studies, with valid outcomes and diagnosis criteria. Recognition of the need for timely referral is an important goal in the teaching of students and generalists. Moreover, the nature of management differences between rheumatologists and PCPs has to be explored. We should also think how to create a better coordination. This starts by knowing what are the needs of the PCP (e.g. education, access to phone advice or rapid consultation) and by defining common plan if the care should be shared.

Conclusion: Several healthcare professionals, among whom the PCP plays a pivotal role, should share the management of RA. PCPs and rheumatologists should be encouraged to work together on optimizing the management of patients with RA.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Humans
  • Patient Care Team
  • Physician's Role*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Rheumatology*
  • Treatment Outcome