Roles of nurse practitioners and physician assistants in rheumatology practices in the US

Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2014 Jul;66(7):1108-13. doi: 10.1002/acr.22255.


Objective: A recent workforce study of rheumatology in the US suggests that during the next several decades, the demand for rheumatology services will outstrip the supply of rheumatologists. Midlevel providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants may be able to alleviate projected shortages.

Methods: We administered a nationwide survey of midlevel providers during 2012. Invitations with the survey were sent with one followup reminder. The survey contained questions regarding demographics, training, level of practice independence, responsibilities, drug prescribing, use of objective outcome measures, and knowledge and use of treat-to-target (TTT) strategies.

Results: The invitation was sent to 482 eligible midlevel providers via e-mail and 90 via US mail. We received a total of 174 responses (30%). The mean age was 46 years and 83% were women. Nearly 75% had ≤10 years of experience and 53% had received formal training in rheumatology. Almost two-thirds reported having their own panel of patients. The top 3 practice responsibilities described were performing patient education (99%), adjusting medication doses (98%), and conducting physical examinations (97%). More than 90% felt very or somewhat comfortable diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and a similar percentage prescribed disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. Three-quarters reported using disease activity measures for RA and 56% reported that their practices used TTT strategies.

Conclusion: Most respondents reported that they had substantial patient care responsibilities, used disease activity measures for RA, and incorporated TTT in their practice. These data suggest midlevel providers may help to reduce shortages in the rheumatology workforce and conform with recommendations to employ TTT strategies in RA treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / epidemiology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurse Practitioners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Nurse's Role*
  • Physician Assistants / statistics & numerical data*
  • Rheumatology / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology