Objective: To describe the practices of rheumatologists in France for managing a flare in a patient being treated for long-standing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and to estimate the corresponding costs.
Methods: A survey questionnaire was sent to the 2485 practicing rheumatologists in France; 917 completed questionnaires were returned (37% response rate). The questionnaire collected information on the respondents and on their recommendations for managing a fictional patient with a 10-year history of RA in flare, with a recent episode of neck pain, despite prednisone and methotrexate therapy. Investigational and treatment (first month) costs were estimated from the perspective of society in 2001 Euros.
Results: Over 80% of the respondents recommended measuring laboratory inflammation parameters, complete blood cell counts, liver enzymes, serum creatinine, and radiographs (hands, anteroposterior cervical spine view, wrists, knees); 50-70% recommended additional cervical spine incidences, elbow and chest radiographs, and bone absorptiometry. Adding anti-TNF therapy (24%) or another DMARD (10%), increasing the methotrexate dosage (24%), and substituting leflunomide for methotrexate were the main recommended treatments. Most respondents suggested continuing the glucocorticoid in the same dosage (61%) or a higher dosage (36%). Analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were recommended by 65% and 41% of respondents and rehabilitation therapy by 83%. The median cost was 500 Euro (mean 1105 Euro; range 80-4089 Euro).
Conclusion: We found a high level of agreement among French rheumatologists regarding the evaluation of established RA. Marked variations in recommended treatments were observed and translated into major cost differences.