Objective: Care in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is optimized by involvement of rheumatologists. We wished to determine whether patients suspected of having new-onset RA in Québec consulted with a rheumatologist, to document any delay in these consultations, and to determine factors associated with prompt consultation.
Methods: Physician reimbursement administrative data were obtained for all adults in Québec. Suspected new-onset cases of RA in the year 2000 were defined operationally as a physician visit for RA (based on the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision diagnostic codes), where there had been no prior visit code to any physician for RA in the preceding 3 years. For those patients who were first diagnosed by a nonrheumatologist, Cox regression modeling was used to identify patient and physician characteristics associated with time to consultation with a rheumatologist.
Results: Of the 10,001 persons coded as incident RA by a nonrheumatologist, only 27.3% consulted a rheumatologist within the next 2.5-3.5 years. Of those who consulted, the median time from initial visit to a physician for RA to consultation with a rheumatologist was 79 days. The strongest predictors of shorter time to consultation were female sex, younger age, being in a higher socioeconomic class, and having greater comorbidity.
Conclusion: Our data suggest that the vast majority of patients suspected of having new-onset RA do not receive rheumatology care. Further action should focus on this issue so that outcomes in RA may be optimized.