Objective: To assess agreement among rheumatologists and family physicians (FP) about the indications for knee replacement (KR) referral, use of nonsurgical management options, and perceived outcomes of KR, and to determine the relationship between these opinions and the number of patients seen with severe osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee.
Methods: 98 adult rheumatologists and a random sample of 250 FP in Ontario, Canada were surveyed. Of the practising and traceable rheumatologists and FP, 70.0 and 5.16% responded, respectively.
Results: FP disagreed on how 28 of 32 patient factors affected their KR referral decision, while rheumatologists disagreed on 26 of these 32 factors (p = 0.03). Rheumatologists and FP consistently disagreed on the use of 8 of 10 treatments for knee OA (p = 0.37). While rheumatologists and FP reported similar KR outcomes, FP were less in agreement (p = 0.03). Clinical disagreement for the indications for KR (p < 0.0001) and KR outcomes (p < 0.0001) were greater among FP than among orthopedic surgeons who were surveyed in a prior study. Clinical disagreement about the indications for KR was greater among rheumatologists than among surgeons (p = 0.04), but there was no difference in perceived KR incomes (p = 0.18).
Conclusion: Referring physicians disagreed on the indications for KR referral an on the treatments for knee arthritis, but were in general agreement regarding KR outcomes. Clinical disagreement was greater among FP than among rheumatologists, who in turn reported more disagreement than orthopedic surgeons. Explanations for these difference in perceptions should be the focus of research, but guidelines specifically tailored for each physician specialty may be required to reduce clinical uncertainty.