Delays between the onset of symptoms and first rheumatology consultation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis in the UK: an observational study.
OBJECTIVE: To investigate delays from symptom onset to rheumatology assessment for patients with a new onset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or unclassified arthritis. METHODS: Newly presenting adults with either RA or unclassified arthritis were mrecruited from rheumatology clinics. Data on the length of time between symptom onset and first seeing a GP (patient delay), between first seeing a general practitioner (GP) and being referred to a rheumatologist (general practitioner delay) and being seen by a rheumatologist following referral (hospital delay) were captured. RESULTS: 822 patients participated (563 female, mean age 55 years). The median time between symptom onset and seeing a rheumatologist was 27.2 weeks (IQR 14.1-66 weeks); only 20% of patients were seen within the first 3 months following symptom onset. The median patient delay was 5.4 weeks (IQR 1.4-26.3 weeks). Patients who purchased over-the-counter medications or used ice/heat packs took longer to seek help than those who did not. In addition, those with a palindromic or an insidious symptom onset delayed for longer than those with a non-palindromic or acute onset. The median general practitioner delay was 6.9 weeks (IQR 2.3-20.3 weeks). Patients made a mean of 4 GP visits before being referred. The median hospital delay was 4.7 weeks (IQR 2.9-7.5 weeks). CONCLUSION: This study identified delays at all levels in the pathway towards assessment by a rheumatologist. However, delays in primary care were particularly long. Patient delay was driven by the nature of symptom onset. Complex multi-faceted interventions to promote rapid help seeking and to facilitate prompt onward referral from primary care should be developed.