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Open Access Open Badges Research article

DMARD non-use in low-income, elderly rheumatoid arthritis patients: results of 86 structured interviews

Erika M Brown1, Katie L Garneau1, Hsun Tsao1 and Daniel H Solomon12*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 75 Francis Street, Boston, MA 02115, USA

2 Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 75 Francis Street, Boston, MA 02115, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2014, 16:R30  doi:10.1186/ar4459

Published: 29 January 2014



Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) have become the treatment standard for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Although several general-population studies document that a large population of patients diagnosed with RA do not use DMARDs, little is known about this group. We explored the characteristics, experiences, and knowledge of a low-income, elderly RA population not currently using DMARDs, or receiving care from a rheumatologist.


We administered structured telephone interviews to participants enrolled in a large pharmacy benefits program for the elderly who had two diagnoses of RA ≥7 days apart and no DMARD prescriptions or rheumatologist visits in the prior year. The interview contained questions concerning each participant’s sociodemographic information, disease activity, DMARD experiences, and the Modified Health Assessment Questionnaire (MHAQ). We described responses and compared prior users with never users.


A total of 86 people completed the interview. The mean age was 80 years and 89% were female. On average, disease duration was 20 years. Mean MHAQ score was 0.55 (SD = 0.55). Of 86 participants, 19 had previously used DMARDs, 10 of whom discontinued them because of side effects or safety concerns. Among 67 never-users, 35 (52.2%) reported that their physicians had never offered them DMARDs, 13 (19.4%) described fear of side effects, and 49 (73.1%) knew nothing about them. Prior-users reported experiencing more-severe RA symptoms than never-users.


We found that side effects or safety concerns were the primary cause for DMARD cessation among prior-users. Among never-users, most reported never discussing or being offered DMARDs, suggesting that an educational gap may deter patients with RA from using them.