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Health Team

Study: Many patients not getting RA drugs

Posted February 1, 2011 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated February 1, 2011 6:43 p.m. EST

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a painful auto-immune disease which affects the joints and can lead to deformity and disability.

There are drugs that treat the symptoms and slow the disease's progression, but many patients aren't getting these medications, according to a new study.

Swollen hands with eroding bone around the joints are common in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis.

Jennifer Malloy was diagnosed with the disease 14 years ago.

“If I tried to extend my hand outward, it felt like a rubber band snapping in the middle of my hand,” Malloy said.

She was immediately prescribed disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or DMARDS, orally and then by injections.

Mallory's grandmother, who also has RA, takes only a few oral medications and still struggles with the disease.

Researchers analyzed three years of data from more than 90,000 Medicare patients aged 65 and older with RA. Two-thirds of the patients received the appropriate treatment, but other groups didn't.

“Black patients receive these medications less frequently than white patients. Patients with low incomes receive the medications less frequently than those with higher incomes,” said Dr. Gabriela Schmajuk, a researcher and instructor at Stanford University.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Some health plans are doing very well; four out of five patients are receiving the medications that they need. Whereas, other plans are doing not so well; one out of five patients are getting the medication that they need,” Schmajuk said.

Researchers said where patients live in the United States is also a factor. In the Pacific region, patients received medications more frequently than those in the middle and south Atlantic regions.

Researchers said further study is needed to understand why the disparity of care exists in these particular groups of patients.