Background New strategies and options for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have evolved during the past decade. A study was undertaken to investigate to what extent this influenced daily rheumatological care and how this translates into clinical and patient-reported outcomes.
Methods Data from a total of 38 723 outpatients with RA enrolled in the National Database of the German Collaborative Arthritis Centres in the years 1997–2007 were analysed. The cross-sectional annual data were compared to detect time trends.
Results Between 1997 and 2007 the prescription of combinations of traditional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) increased from 8% of all patients to 23%; biological agents were prescribed to 16% of patients with RA in 2007. The mean disease activity (DAS28) fell from 4.5 to 3.4 (median 4.5–3.2). The percentage of patients with low disease activity (DAS28 <3.2) increased significantly from 23% to 49%. The proportion of patients with ≥6 swollen joints fell from 43.1% in 1997 to 8.1% in 2007 and, in those with ≥6 tender joints, from 46.3% to 15.8%. There was a large decrease in the total annual number of days of sick leave due to the rheumatic condition from 27.2 to 8.8 days per gainfully employed person. This reduction is far beyond the decline in the general population. There was also a tendency to higher participation in the work force, specifically in older patients, reflecting the trend seen in the general population.
Conclusions The intensity of drug treatment in patients with RA has increased during the past 7 years. This has been accompanied by not only a decrease in disease activity but also a considerable reduction of economic losses due to sick leave and permanent work disability.
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Funding The national database received research grants from the German Federal Ministry of Health (FB2-433346-8/13; 1993–1999), from the German Ministry of Education and Research within the Competence Network Rheumatology (01GI0344/3; 1999–2007), from the Association of German Collaborative Arthritis Centres (2007–2009), and from a consortium of the following pharmaceutical companies who have supported the database since 2007 via joint, unconditional grants to the Rheuma-Akademie of the German Society for Rheumatology: Abbott, Actelion, BMS, Essex, Medac, Merck, MSD, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis, UCB and Wyeth. The principal investigators have full academic freedom in study conduct, data analysis and publication of results.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Charité Medical School.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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