Primary care challenges in diagnosing and referring patients with suspected rheumatoid arthritis: a national cross-sectional GP survey

Ian C Scott, Navjeet Mangat, Alex MacGregor, Karim Raza, Christian D Mallen, Samantha L Hider

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Objective: National guidelines advocate referring patients with persistent synovitis to rheumatology within 3 working days of presentation to primary care. This occurs infrequently. We aimed to identify modifiable barriers to early referral of suspected RA patients among English general practitioners (GPs).

Methods: We carried out a national cross-sectional survey of 1388 English GPs (RA Questionnaire for GPs [RA-QUEST] study). Questions addressed GPs’ confidence in diagnosing RA, clinical factors influencing RA diagnosis/referral, timeliness of referrals and secondary care access. Data were captured using 10-point visual analog scales, five-point Likert scales, yes/no questions or free text, and were analysed descriptively.

Results: Small joint swelling and pain were most influential in diagnosing RA (91 and 84% rated the importance of these as 4 or 5 on a five-point Likert scale, respectively); investigations including RF (61% rating 4 or 5) and anti-CCP antibody (72% rating 4 or 5) were less influential. Patient history had the greatest impact on the decision to refer (92% rating this 4 or 5 on a 5-point Likert scale), with acute phase markers (74% rating 4 or 5) and serology (76% rating 4 or 5) less impactful. Despite the importance placed on history and examination, only 26% referred suspected RA immediately without investigations; 95% of GPs organizing further tests opted to test for RF.

Conclusion: For suspected RA patients to be referred within 3 days of presentation to primary care there needs to be a paradigm shift in GPs’ approaches to making referral decisions, with a focus on clinical history and examination findings, and not the use of investigations such as RF.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRheumatology Advances in Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2018

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