To quantify population-level and practice-level encounters with rheumatologists over time.
We conducted a population-based study from 2000 to 2015 in Ontario, Canada, where all residents are covered by a single-payer healthcare system. Annual total number of unique patients seen by rheumatologists, the number of new patients seen, and total number of encounters with rheumatologists were identified.
From 2000 to 2015, the percentage of the population seen by rheumatologists was constant over time (2.7%). During this time, Ontario had a stable supply of rheumatologists (0.8 full-time equivalents/75,000). From 2000 to 2015, the number of annual rheumatology encounters increased from 561,452 to 786,061, but the adjusted encounter rates remained stable over time (at 62 encounters per 1000 population). New patient assessment rates declined over time from 10 new outpatient assessments per 1000 in 2000 to 6 per 1000 in 2015. The crude volume of new patients seen annually decreased and an increasing proportion of rheumatology encounters were with established patients. We observed a shift in patient case mix over time, with more assessments for systemic inflammatory conditions. Rheumatologists’ practice volumes, practice sizes, and the annual number of days providing clinical care decreased over time.
Over a 15-year period, the annual percentage of the population seen by a rheumatologist remained constant and the volume of new patients decreased, while followup patient encounters increased. Patient encounters per rheumatologist decreased over time. Our findings provide novel information for rheumatology workforce planning. Factors affecting clinical activity warrant further research.