Something's missing here: a look at the quality of rheumatology referral letters

Rheumatol Int. 2012 Apr;32(4):1083-5. doi: 10.1007/s00296-011-1832-z. Epub 2011 Feb 22.


A convincing body of evidence points to an early window of opportunity for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. However, data indicate that in many cases, this window of opportunity is missed. Once a patient does present to their primary care provider, important additional delays in rheumatology assessment can occur. To report the results of our study assessing referral letters to rheumatologists, we examined referral letters received over a one-year period by one full-time rheumatologist practicing at a tertiary-care center. We found only a small percentage of referral letters made mention of the pattern of joint involvement. Just 17% of consults indicated symptom duration. Only 2% mentioned any circadian rhythm of symptoms (such as morning stiffness), and only 6% provided information about functional status. Almost two-thirds (62%) of consults specified only 'joint pain' in the referral letter. We provide objective evidence that referral letters sent to rheumatologists are often lacking in key elements of the medical history. This lack of information means that appropriate triage of referrals by rheumatologists is very difficult. As a response to this, we have developed, with family physicians and rheumatologists, a standardized referral template which is being pilot-tested. Our ultimate goal is to improve wait times for patients with urgent conditions such as inflammatory arthritis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Rheumatic Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Rheumatology*