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Rheumatology (Oxford). 2006 Feb;45(2):201-3. Epub 2005 Nov 15.

Self-referral of symptoms (SOS) follow-up system of appointments for patients with uncertain diagnoses in rheumatology out-patients.

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  • 1Staffordshire Rheumatology Centre, The Haywood Hospital, High Lane, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent ST6 7AG, UK.



Clinical features in rheumatological conditions often fluctuate with time and this may cause difficulty when evaluating patients whose symptoms or signs do not coincide with their initial rheumatology visit. The aim of this study was to evaluate the outcome of a follow-up system whereby patients with uncertain rheumatological diagnoses at their initial assessment are given easy and rapid access to a rheumatology review.


We studied the outcome of SOS (self-referral of symptoms) appointments offered to patients over a 44-month period in one consultant's clinic at the Staffordshire Rheumatology Centre. The reattendance rates and diagnoses at the initial and subsequent visits were evaluated over a mean period of 26.3 months (range 7-64 months).


Thirty-seven patients (23 males, 14 females) were offered SOS appointments during the period studied. At the initial assessment, a provisional diagnosis was recorded for 29 patients (78.4%), whereas the diagnosis was unclear for the other eight patients. At the end of the study period, 10 patients (27%) had requested specialist review via the SOS system after a mean period of 6.8 months (1-19 months). The diagnosis remained unchanged in 8 of the 10 reattenders, whereas the diagnosis was revised in two patients. None of these patients, however, developed an inflammatory arthritis.


We suggest that an SOS system of appointments may be a feasible and practical method to follow up patients who have uncertain rheumatological diagnoses at their initial visit. This follow-up system may not easily fit into the current out-patient reforms being implemented in the National Health Service, yet this form of specialist follow-up seems clinically essential for some forms of disease management. The requirements necessary to operate such a system as well as the envisaged pros and cons for the patient and for the rheumatologist are discussed.

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