Many patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a crippling disease that eats away at the joints and causes pain and swelling, aren’t getting the low-cost medication they need to prevent deformity. That's according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers at Stanford, UCSF, Brown and Harvard examined variations in the treatment of 93,143 older patients with rheumatoid arthritis between 2005 and 2008. They found that only 63 percent of Medicare-managed patients received any amount of the medications, called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs - a figure that lead author Gabriela Schmajuk, MD, said should be closer to 90 percent. The study also shows that certain groups (low-income patients, black patients, patients living in the mid- and south-Atlantic regions) received the prescription drugs less frequently than others, and treatment also varied dramatically between health-care plans.
In a release, Schmajuk, a postdoctoral scholar in immunology and rheumatology, explained why this is a concern:
The reason treatment is so important is that if left untreated one-third of patients with rheumatoid arthritis will become disabled within five years of diagnosis. The disease primarily affects the hands. Frequently patients are unable to work because they can’t use their hands.