1 Out of 5 Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Remained Undiagnosed During COVID

Rheumatoid Arthritis
Source: Healio

According to new research, the prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis declined by 20% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study was published in The Lancet Rheumatology Journal by King College London researchers. Their research shows that at least one-fifth of new cases could have been left undiagnosed. Since cases were undiagnosed, it led to a decline in rheumatoid arthritis.

Hence, it has been suggested that the majority of the people had not been visiting their general practitioners. Neither did they get a consultation by them. However, patients diagnosed during the pandemic did not face any delays in treatment. Moreover, the study evaluated the different types of treatment available in England for arthritis.

Every year, a benchmark is set for the treatment of patients with rheumatoid arthritis through a national audit. However, these audits are paused during the pandemic, making comparisons of care a challenge.

Secure Health Platform

The researchers used OpenSAFELY, which is a secure health platform. It detects how the pandemic affected the diagnosis and management of arthritis. The population of the study were 17 million people in England. Moreover, 31,000 of them were evaluated based on their April 2019 to March 2022 diagnoses.

The results showed that there was a drop in newly recorded arthritis by 20% after the first year of the pandemic. The diagnosis cases decreased before coming back to the pre-pandemic April 2022 level. Moreover, no rebound was seen in the diagnosis after the restrictions were lifted. It suggested that the burden of undiagnosed patients is significant.

However, more importantly, the treatment was much faster compared to before the pandemic. Probably because of fewer hospital referrals and the use of virtual appointments. The proportion of patients starting treatment was the same but safer and less effective medications were being prescribed. This could be due to the concern clinicians have regarding stronger medications.

Lead author Dr. Mark Russell said,

This study highlights that there are likely to be people with joint pain and swelling who remain undiagnosed as a consequence of the pandemic. It is important to speak to a doctor if you have these symptoms, as early diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis greatly improves outcomes for patients and increases the likelihood of disease remission.

An important message of this study is that it is possible to assess the quality of care for patients with long-term health conditions using routinely collected health data. This approach could be applied to many other chronic health conditions and be used to provide feedback to NHS organizations and clinicians, with the aim of optimizing care for patients.


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