Access to Rheumatologists Varies Greatly By Region

In a study conducted by the American College of Rheumatology, 90% of rheumatologists were based in cities with a population of at least 50,000. Many smaller cities and rural areas have no practicing rheumatologists. These results were published in Arthritis & Rheumatism.

In order to achieve the best possible outcome with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it’s important to receive early treatment with effective medications, and to undergo regular monitoring. Optimal management of RA can be complex, and is best handled by rheumatologists—physicians who specialize in the treatment of RA and other related conditions. Outside of large cities, however, access to rheumatologists can be limited.

To describe where rheumatologists practice in the United States, the American College of Rheumatology collected information about 3,920 rheumatologists.

  • 90% of the rheumatologists practiced in metropolitan areas (population of at least 50,000 and a central urban core). Only 3% practiced in micropolitan areas (population between 10,000 and 50,000), and 7% practiced in rural areas.
  • In 16% of micropolitan areas, there were no practicing rheumatologists within 75 miles.
  • In addition to having larger populations, areas with the highest concentration of rheumatologists also tended to have higher proportions of young people, women, and people who were white or Asian-American.

This study highlights the variability by region in access to rheumatologists. Outside of large cities, people with RA sometimes have to travel substantial distances in order to receive care. The American College of Rheumatology is studying this problem as it considers how to address shortages in rheumatology services.

Reference: American College of Rheumatology Committee on Rheumatology Training and Workforce Issues. Regional Distribution of Adult Rheumatologists. Arthritis & Rheumatism. 2013;65:3017-3025.

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