Background: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) provide an important opportunity for understanding care of patients with a serious chronic condition.
Objectives: We sought to characterize the complexity of care for patients with RA, including metrics describing the patient, the disease, and use of the health care system across time and place.
Methods: We undertook a prospective cohort study of 568 community-dwelling patients with RA by using observational data from clinically detailed telephone interviews at baseline and 2 years later in addition to medical record abstraction. Health status, comorbidity, use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, visits, providers, provider types, encounter settings, and the discontinuity between patients and providers were studied.
Results: Within a 12-month window, 568 patients had 8686 outpatient encounters with the health care system with a mean of 3.41 unique providers per patient associated with a mean of 5 primary care and 6 rheumatologist visits. Half did not see a primary care physician, and 20% did not see a rheumatologist during 6-month periods despite their use of potentially toxic drugs, a mean of 4 comorbidities and progressive RA. Over the course of 24 months, 29% of patients changed their primary care provider, and 15% changed their rheumatologist. Patients were moderately impaired with mean SF-12 physical component score 37 (SD, 9).
Conclusion: Patients with RA have frequent encounters with multiple providers and also frequent discontinuity of care. Recognizing the complexity of the care of patients with a chronic disease across multiple dimensions provides an opportunity to better understand challenges and opportunities in delivering high quality care.