Objective: The authors compared outcomes among persons with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with a rheumatologist versus a non-rheumatologist as the main physician for this condition.
Methods: A cohort of 1,025 persons with rheumatoid arthritis were followed for as long as 11 years. The principal measures were obtained from an annual structured telephone interview conducted by a trained survey worker. All persons with rheumatoid arthritis originally were selected from a random sample of community rheumatologists, but some subsequently had migrated to the practices of non-rheumatologists. The main outcome measures included the number of painful and swollen joints, extent of morning stiffness, a global pain rating, functional status, and a measure of global improvement.
Results: The persons with rheumatoid arthritis treated by rheumatologists reported significantly better functional status, fewer painful joints, and a lower overall pain rating, although the magnitude of these differences was small. A significantly greater proportion of the persons with rheumatoid arthritis treated by rheumatologists also reported improvement in a global measure of rheumatoid arthritis outcome and simultaneous improvement in all outcome measures. On all other outcome measures, the point estimate favored those with a rheumatologist as the main rheumatoid arthritis physician, although the differences did not reach statistical significance.
Conclusions: The evidence suggests an advantage for persons with a rheumatologist as the main rheumatoid arthritis physician, but on several of the measures of outcome, the magnitude of the advantage was small. Because the present study was an observational design, the possibility that the advantage among persons with a rheumatologist as the main rheumatoid arthritis physician is an artifact of selection bias cannot be ruled out.