Background: To estimate rheumatoid arthritis (RA) prevalence in Quebec using administrative health data, comparing across regions.
Methods: Cases of RA were ascertained from physician billing and hospitalization data, 1992-2008. We used three case definitions: 1) ≥ 2 billing diagnoses, submitted by any physician, ≥ 2 months apart, but within 2 years; 2) ≥ 1 diagnosis, by a rheumatologist; 3) ≥1 hospitalization diagnosis (all based on ICD-9 code 714, and ICD-10 code M05). We combined data across these three case definitions, using Bayesian hierarchical latent class models to estimate RA prevalence, adjusting for the imperfect sensitivity and specificity of the data. We compared urban versus rural regions.
Results: Using our case definitions and no adjustment for error, we defined 75,760 cases for an over-all RA prevalence of 9.9 per thousand residents. After adjusting for the imperfect sensitivity and specificity of our case definition algorithms, we estimated Quebec RA prevalence at 5.6 per 1000 females and 4.1 per 1000 males. The adjusted RA prevalence estimates for older females were the highest for any demographic group (9.9 cases per 1,000), and were similar in rural and urban regions. In younger males and females, and in older males, RA prevalence estimates were lower in rural versus urban areas.
Conclusions: Without adjustment for error inherent in administrative databases, RA prevalence in Quebec was approximately 1%, while adjusted estimates are approximately half that. The lower prevalence in rural areas, seen for most demographic groups, may suggest either true regional variations in RA risk, or under-ascertainment of cases in rural Quebec.