Smoldering rheumatoid arthritis: is the Canadian healthcare system neglecting a significant disease population?
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OBJECTIVE: To investigate rheumatology practice in Canada with regard to evaluating disease activity status and treatment regimens in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It was hypothesized that patients with "smoldering" disease activity were not being adequately treated. METHODS: Rheumatologists were invited to participate by the Canadian Rheumatology Association in an audit entitled the Assessment in Rheumatology (AIR) program. From across Canada, 65 rheumatologists participated. One thousand five hundred ninety-six consecutive patients with RA seen in regular clinics were classified according to 4 states of disease activity: remission, controlled adequately, smoldering, and uncontrolled. Demographics (age, sex, geographic region), therapy (nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, disease modifying antirheumatic drugs, biologicals, steroids), joint counts (tender/swollen), comorbidity, and treatment decisions at the time of the visit were recorded. Data were collected at the time of the visit with personal digital assistants (PDA) and aggregated, without personal identifiers, for analysis in SPSS. RESULTS: The majority of patients had "smoldering" (29%) or "uncontrolled" disease (23%), with the remainder in "remission" (15%) or "controlled adequately" (33%) at the time of their visit. Following the appointment, the uncontrolled group had a 100% increase (from 10.4% to 23.4%) in the addition of biological agents; however, there was no significant increase in the rates for those with smoldering disease (19.4% to 20.5%). CONCLUSION: Despite Canada’s universal healthcare system, current treatment regimens may not be optimized on the basis of disease activity. A large proportion of patients with RA (29%) seen in Canadian rheumatology practices may be experiencing unnecessary disease for a variety of reasons.
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