Objective: To measure the views of general practitioners (GPs) and rheumatologists in a nationwide evaluation, so as to optimise their cooperation in managing patients with inflammatory rheumatic diseases.
Methods: A questionnaire covering aspects of collaboration was sent, both by mail and/or by email, to all GPs and rheumatologists in Austria. Topics covered were (i) examinations and interventions to be performed before referral, (ii) the spectrum of diseases to be referred, and (iii) the role of GPs in follow-up and continuous management of patients.
Results: 1,229 GPs of the 4,016 GPs (31%) and 110 of the 180 rheumatologists (61%) responded to the questionnaire. In cases of suspected arthritis, 99% of the GPs and 92% of the rheumatologists recommended specific laboratory tests, and 92% and 70%, respectively, recommended X-rays of affected joints before referral. Rheumatoid arthritis and spondyloarthritis, psoriatic arthritis and connective tissue disease were unanimously seen as indications for referral to a rheumatologist. Only 12% of rheumatologists felt responsible for the treatment of hand osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. 80% of GPs and 85% of rheumatologists were of the opinion that treatment with disease-modifying drugs should be initiated by a specialist. Subsequent drug prescription and administration by GPs was supported by a majority of GPs and rheumatologists, with a concomitant rheumatologist follow-up every three to six months.
Conclusion: The considerable consensus between the two professional groups constitutes a solid base for future joint recommendations, with the aim to accelerate the diagnostic process and the initiation of adequate therapy.