Objective: To compare the use of methotrexate (MTX), intramuscular (i.m.) gold, hydroxychloroquine, and prednisone for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treatment among patients managed by rheumatologists and nonrheumatologists.
Methods: Multiple regression analysis to estimate the likelihood of starting treatment and response to treatment for patients managed by rheumatologists and nonrheumatologists. All regression analyses were adjusted for patient demographic and clinical characteristics.
Results: Therapy with all agents studied was initiated more frequently for patients with RA with at least some contact with rheumatologists during the year than for those managed strictly by nonrheumatologists. The adjusted odds ratios for starts on these medications ranged from 1.14 for im gold to 15.11 for MTX for patients managed by rheumatologists compared to those managed by nonrheumatologists. However, due to the low frequency of initiation of treatment with most of these drugs for patients managed strictly by nonrheumatologists, only the odds ratio for prednisone reached statistical significance (OR = 2.94, p = 0.0082). In the year after initiation of therapy with these agents, patients managed by rheumatologists experienced better response to treatment than those managed by nonrheumatologists. These differences were statistically significant for MTX (p = 0.0447) and nearly significant for im gold (p = 0.0597).
Conclusion: These results provide evidence of systematic differences in the propensity of rheumatologists and nonrheumatologists to initiate therapy with these antirheumatic drugs. If the observed differences in initial response to treatment translate into substantial differences in longterm outcomes, then these results suggest that the welfare of patients with RA may be jeopardized by the current trend toward primary care and restricted access to rheumatologists.