Rheumatologist and Patient Mental Models for Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis Help Explain Low Treat-to-Target Rates

ACR Open Rheumatol. 2022 Aug;4(8):700-710. doi: 10.1002/acr2.11443. Epub 2022 Jun 6.


Objective: Despite proven benefits, less than half of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are treated using a treat-to-target (TTT) strategy. Our objective was to identify critical discrepancies between rheumatologist and patient mental models related to the treatment of RA to inform interventions designed to increase implementation of TTT.

Methods: We developed rheumatologist and patient mental models using the Mental Models Approach to Risk Communication. We conducted semistructured interviews to elicit views related to RA treatment decisions with 14 rheumatologists and 30 patients with RA. We also included responses (n = 284) to an open-ended question on a survey fielded to augment qualitative descriptions from the interviews. Interviews were transcribed and coded independently by two members of the research team.

Results: Rheumatologist and patient mental models for RA treatment are significantly more complex than the TTT model. Both consider domains (system factors and patient readiness) outside of disease activity measurement, target setting, and risk versus benefit assessment in their decision-making. Furthermore, specific factors were found to be unique to each model. For example, the physician model stresses the importance of evaluating disease activity over time and patient adherence. In contrast, patients discussed the impact of chronic disease weariness, medication-related fatigue, the importance of feeling adequately informed, and stress associated with changing medications.

Conclusion: We found several discrepancies primarily related to information gaps and differences in how patients and physicians value trade-offs that can serve as specific targets to improve patient-physician communication and ultimately inform interventions to improve uptake of TTT.