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A population-based study evaluating retention in rheumatology care among patients with rheumatoid arthritis

Barber CEH, Lacaille D, Croxford R, Barnabe C, Marshall DA, Abrahamowicz M, Xie H, Avina-Zubieta JA, Esdaile JM, Hazlewood G, Faris P, Katz S, MacMullan P, Mosher D, Widdifield J. ACR Open Rheumatol. 2022; May 5 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI:

Objective — The study objective was to assess adherence to system-level performance measures measuring retention in rheumatology care and disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) treatment in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods — We used a validated health administrative data case definition to identify individuals with RA in Ontario, Canada, between 2002 and 2014 who had at least 5 years of potential follow-up prior to 2019. During the first 5 years following diagnosis, we assessed whether patients were seen by a rheumatologist yearly and the proportion dispensed a DMARD yearly (in those aged ≥66 for whom medication data were available). Multivariable logistic regression analyses were used to estimate the odds of remaining under rheumatologist care.

Results — The cohort included 50,883 patients with RA (26.1% aged 66 years and older). Over half (57.7%) saw a rheumatologist yearly in all 5 years of follow-up. Sharp declines in the percentage of patients with an annual visit were observed in each subsequent year after diagnosis, although a linear trend to improved retention in rheumatology care was seen over the study period (P < 0.0001). For individuals aged 66 years or older (n = 13,293), 82.1% under rheumatologist care during all 5 years after diagnosis were dispensed a DMARD annually compared with 31.0% of those not retained under rheumatology care. Older age, male sex, lower socioeconomic status, higher comorbidity score, and having an older rheumatologist decreased the odds of remaining under rheumatology care.

Conclusion — System-level improvement initiatives should focus on maintaining ongoing access to rheumatology specialty care. Further investigation into causes of loss to rheumatology follow-up is needed.

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