Objective: To evaluate practice variation and time trends in the initial prescription of second line drugs for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by a group of selected rheumatologists.
Methods: We retrospectively reviewed medical charts of all patients with a diagnosis of RA, initially seen between January 1, 1985, and June 30, 1994, by rheumatologists from a tertiary center and a rheumatology referral clinic in Edmonton.
Results: 1427 patients initially seen between 1985 and 1994 were included in the study. Of these, 1244 (87%) received a second line drug, 71% within 1.5 years after the disease onset. Overall, antimalarials and parenteral gold were the most frequently prescribed. Statistically significant trends were observed for the years under study. From 1985 to 1987, the most frequently prescribed initial second line drug was parenteral gold, between 1988 to 1990, sulfasalazine, and after 1991, antimalarials. Methotrexate was rarely used as a first choice. Marked variability was observed among rheumatologists in the use of initial second line drugs. In general, year of prescription and prescribing rheumatologist were significantly associated with the selection of all second line drugs but methotrexate. In addition, disease duration and residence (urban or rural) were associated with the selection of antimalarials and parenteral gold.
Conclusion: Most patients were treated early with second line drugs. Initial prescription patterns varied among rheumatologists. These patterns have changed over the last 10 years. An increasing trend in the use of antimalarials was noted, and unlike prescription patterns in the US, methotrexate was rarely used as the first second line drug.