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Arthritis Care Res. 1997 Oct;10(5):289-99.

Comparison of general internists, family physicians, and rheumatologists managing patients with symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee.

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Department of Medicine, Regenstrief Institute for Health Care.



To evaluate the nature, risks, and benefits of osteoarthritis (OA) management by primary care physicians and rheumatologists.


Subjects were 419 patients followed for symptoms of knee OA by either a specialist in family medicine (FM) or general internal medicine (GIM) or by a rheumatologist (RH). Management practices were characterized by in-home documentation by a visiting nurse of drugs taken to relieve OA pain or to prevent gastrointestinal side effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and by patient report (self-administered survey) of nonpharmacologic treatments. Changes in outcomes (knee pain and physical function) over 6 months were measured with the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index.


Patients of RHs were 2-3 years older (P = 0.035) and tended to exhibit greater radiographic severity of OA (P = 0.064) and poorer physical function (P = 0.076) at baseline than the other 2 groups. In all 3 groups, knee pain and physical function improved slightly over 6 months; however, between-group differences were not significant. Compared to drug management of knee pain by FMs or RHs, that by the GIMs was distinguished by greater utilization of acetaminophen and nonacetylated salicylates (P = 0.008), lower prescribed doses of NSAIDs (P = 0.007), and, therefore, lower risk of iatrogenic gastroenteropathy (P < 0.001). In contrast, patients of RHs were more likely than those of FMs and GIMs to report that they had been instructed in use of isometric quadriceps and range-of-motion exercises (P < or = 0.001), application of heat (P = 0.051) and cold (P < 0.001) packs, and in the principles of joint protection (P = 0.016). Neither physician specialty nor specific management practices accounted for variations in patient outcomes.


This observational study identified specialty-related variability in key aspects of the management of knee OA in the community (i.e., frequency and dosing of NSAIDs, use of nonpharmacologic modalities) that bear strong implications for long-term safety and cost. However, changes in knee pain and function over 6 months were unrelated to variations in management practices.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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