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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Primary care physicians' perspectives towards managing rheumatoid arthritis: room for improvement

Katie L Garneau1, Maura D Iversen12, Hsun Tsao1 and Daniel H Solomon13*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Rheumatology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, 75 Francis Street, PBB-B3, Boston, MA 02115, USA

2 Department of Physical Therapy School of Health Professions, Bouve College of Health Sciences Northeastern University, 6 Robinson Hall, Room 301C, 360 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA

3 Division of Pharmacoepidemiology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, 1620 Tremont Street, Suite 3030, Boston, MA 02120, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2011, 13:R189  doi:10.1186/ar3517

Published: 18 November 2011



Many people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) do not receive care from a rheumatologist. We surveyed primary care physicians (PCPs) to better understand their attitudes, knowledge, and practices regarding the optimal treatment of RA.


Randomly selected PCPs practicing in the US were surveyed. The survey encompassed their experience with RA, use of disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and experience with rheumatology referrals. Logistic regression analyses described the responses and examined the correlation between physician variables and use of DMARDs.


E-mail invitations were opened by 1, 103 PCPs and completed by 267 (25%). Most respondents were men (68%) in practice for over 10 years (64%) who reported 6 or more RA patients under their care in the last year (71%). The majority reported some RA training after medical school (59%), but only one-third felt very confident managing this condition. Most (81%) reported prescribing DMARDs, but 37% do not initiate them, with only 9% reporting being very confident starting a DMARD. In unadjusted analyses, several respondent characteristics were strongly associated with not prescribing DMARDs, but none was significant after adjustment. Almost half (44%) of PCPs noted that patients report difficulty getting appointments with rheumatologists.


We found many PCPs are uncomfortable managing RA with DMARDs, despite common beliefs that their patients lack access to a rheumatologist. Lack of accessibility to rheumatologists and discomfort in prescribing DMARDs for patients with RA are potential barriers to optimal treatment.