Conference Coverage

VA system lags in getting DMARDs to veterans with inflammatory arthritis



– Only half of United States veterans with inflammatory arthritis received disease-modifying medication within 90 days of diagnosis if they received care within the Veterans Health Administration, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Spondyloarthritis Research and Treatment Network (SPARTAN).

Over the study period, 58.2% of all inflammatory arthritis patients began a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) within 12 months of diagnosis. Rates of DMARD initiation were similar for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA, 57.7%) and psoriatic arthritis (PsA, 64.3%), said the first author of the poster presentation, Sogol S. Amjadi, DO, a resident physician at Bingham Memorial Hospital, Blackfoot, Idaho.

However, at 12 months after diagnosis, only 29.6% of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) patients had not been started on a DMARD. “The ankylosing spondylitis group really had the lowest DMARD initiation over time,” said Dr. Amjadi in an interview.

The study used diagnosis codes and natural language processing to look for incident cases of the three inflammatory arthritides (IAs) among patients receiving care within the Veterans Health Administration from 2007 through 2015.

In all, 12,118 patients with incident IA were identified. Of these, 9,711 had RA, 1,472 had PsA, and 935 had AS. Patients were mostly (91.3%) male, with a mean age of 63.7 years.

Over the study period, 41.2% of IA patients were dispensed a DMARD within 30 days of diagnosis, and 50% received a DMARD within 90 days of diagnosis. Patients with PsA or RA had similar rates of DMARD prescription within 30 days of diagnosis (about 42% and 43%, respectively).

The investigators discovered in their analysis that another factor in prompt treatment was access to specialty care.“Timely access to a rheumatology provider is likely important for early DMARD treatment,” wrote Dr. Amjadi and her coauthors in the poster accompanying the presentation. Of patients who did receive a DMARD, 82.7% had received rheumatology specialty care before nonbiologic DMARD dispensing, as had 90.0% of patients receiving biologic DMARDs. Over the entire study period, about 10% of all IA patients had biologic DMARD exposure.

There was a trend over time for increased DMARD dispensing, said the investigators. “The percentage of IA patients with DMARD exposure during the 12-month follow-up period increased from 48.8% in 2008 to 66.4% in 2015.”

For AS patients, early DMARD prescribing rates rose from about 20% in 2007 to nearly 30% in 2015. “DMARD treatment rates during the initial 12 months after diagnosis increased between 2007 and 2015, but nontreatment remained common, particularly in patients with AS,” wrote the investigators. “Delays in treatment for inflammatory arthritis are associated with unfavorable outcomes, including impaired quality of life, irreversible joint damage, and disability.”

The authors reported no conflicts of interest and no outside sources of funding.

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