Objectives: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) should be seen by a rheumatologist promptly; however, there are no recommendations for patients with osteoarthritis (OA). Our goal was to describe wait times from referral by the primary care provider to rheumatology consultation and to explore whether wait times are associated with type of arthritis diagnosis, geographic area, or type of rheumatology office.
Methods: Appointments were requested by telephone using case scenarios that were created by a group of experts and included (1) presumed RA, (2) possible RA, and (3) presumed OA. Wait times were evaluated as the time between the initial request and the appointment date provided. We used descriptive statistics, bivariate analysis, and logistic regression in the analysis.
Results: For all scenarios combined, 34% were given an appointment with a rheumatologist within 3 months of referral, 32% waited longer than 3 months, and 34% were told that the rheumatologist was not accepting new referrals at the time the request was made. Patients with presumed RA were much more likely to be seen within 3 months of referral compared with those with presumed OA (odds ratio, 13; 95% confidence interval, 1.70-99.38).
Conclusions: Rheumatoid arthritis is prioritized over OA for rheumatology appointments. However, most patients with RA are still not receiving an appointment to a rheumatologist in a timely manner. Effective triage tools to decrease these delays should be instituted.