Objective: To develop a set of indicators for assessing the severity of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) through medical records.
Methods: A list of 47 potential indicators of RA was reviewed by an expert Delphi panel of 6 rheumatologists. The Delphi method is a formal approach for gathering expert opinion. The 47 potential indicators included items from the following 5 categories: radiologic and laboratory findings, clinical and functional status measures, extraarticular manifestations, prior surgical history, and medications. The panelists rated the potential indicators' relationship to RA disease severity. Each panelist rated each indicator on a scale of 0-6, in which 0 indicated no relationship at all with severe RA and 6 indicated a perfect relationship with severe RA. After a baseline set of ratings, a literature review was distributed to the panelists along with the panel's initial mean ratings and the ranges. The panelists then met to discuss the literature and rerate all indicators.
Results: After repeat ratings and review of relevant literature, the panel rated 28 of 47 (60%) potential indicators as having a strong or very strong relationship to severe RA. These 28 indicators were drawn from all 5 categories of potential indicators. There was agreement among the panelists on ratings for 41 of 47 indicators. Agreement was defined as a range of scores among the panelists </=3.
Conclusion: A Delphi panel of rheumatologists agreed that data generally available in medical records may serve as potential indicators of severe RA.